Green Guides | Federal Trade Commission


Consumers are looking for
greener choices in the marketplace. So it’s not surprising that
advertisers often focus on the environmental benefits
of their products. It’s important for advertisers
to remember that green claims, like any other objective claim,
has to be backed up with sound science. Hi. I’m Laura Koss, an attorney
with the Federal Trade Commission, the nation’s
Consumer Protection Agency. If your company is involved in
environmental marketing, you need to know about the
FTC’s Green Guides. The guides have been around for
years and offer advice on how consumers are likely to
interpret phrases you see in green ads. For example, terms
like recyclable. After getting comments from
consumers and businesses, the FTC revised the Green Guides
to address changes in the marketplace and offer more
guidance for companies. Here’s the headline. Basic truth in advertising
principles still apply. And businesses need reliable
evidence to back up environmental promises. You want to read the guides
for the details but let me highlight developments
in four areas. General environmental
benefit claims. Certifications and seals
of approval. Terms that are new to
the Green Guides. And terms that were already in
the guides but that the FTC has clarified or explained. First, general environmental
benefit claims like green or eco-friendly. As a rule, marketers shouldn’t
make broad, unqualified claims like that because they’re
difficult, maybe even impossible, to prove. But those terms could be OK if
you’re careful to explain what aspects of your product you
referring to and how they’re better for the environment. If you make that kind of
narrower, more specific claim, what the FTC calls a qualified
claim, disclose the details clearly and prominently. Fine print footnotes and
buried hyperlinks won’t do the trick. Make sure your qualified claim
isn’t implying a significant environmental benefit if the
upside is actually pretty negligible. Second, certifications and
seals of approval. There’s a reason why you see
these in environmental ads. Most consumers aren’t in a
position to evaluate the evidence behind green claims,
so they may rely on the opinion of a perceived expert. But using a seal or
certification doesn’t change your legal obligation to prove
your underlying claims. You still need sound science
to back up your promises. And you’ll want to steer clear
of seals and certifications that suggest general
environmental benefit claims that can’t be proven. Here’s another important
point. Seals and certifications are
covered by the FTC’s Endorsement Guides. According to the Endorsement
Guides, advertisers have to tell consumers about any
material connection they have to the group offering
the certification. What’s the material
connection? It’s a connection between the
certifier and the advertiser that could affect the
credibility people give the endorsement. Third, terms that are new
to the Green Guides. For example, made with
renewable materials. Consumers aren’t likely to
be as familiar with new terms as you are. And they could misinterpret a
claim like that in a way you didn’t intend. For example, that your product
is biodegradable or made with recycled materials. One way to minimize that risk
is to clearly identify the material you’re talking
about it and tell why it’s renewable. What if only part of your
product is made with renewable materials? Qualify your claim so you’re not
implying the whole thing is made with renewable
materials. The same holds true for
claims like made with renewable energy. One way to reduce the risk of
deception is to be clear about what you mean. For example, that the product
is manufactured using power derived from wind
or solar energy. Don’t make unqualified claims if
any part of your product is made with energy derived
from fossil fuels. The only exception is if you
buy renewable energy certificates, RECs, to match
your energy use. Fourth, new insights about
phrases already in the guides. For example, if you say your
product or packaging is degradable, you should have
proof it will degrade completely within a year. You shouldn’t make unqualified
degradable claims for items headed to landfills,
incinerators, or recycling centers since those products
won’t degrade within a year. If you say your product or
packaging is compostable, the Guides explain that consumers
would be reasonable in concluding they can compost it
at home and that it should break down in about the same
time as the materials it’s composted with. If that’s not the case, take
care to qualify your claim. And if your product can be
composted only in a large scale composting facility that
isn’t available to most people where the product is sold,
make sure your consumers understand your claim has
limited applicability. What about recyclable claims? The guides caution marketers
to qualify their claims if recycling facilities for that
product aren’t available to a substantial majority
of people or communities where it’s sold. How much is a substantial
majority? In this context, at
least 60 percent. As for non-toxic, it’s likely
consumers will interpret that to mean a product is non-toxic
for humans and for the environment. If you make a non-toxic claim,
you’ll need to back it up with competent and reliable
scientific evidence about humans and to the environment
or qualify your claims accordingly. The revised guides offer
additional advise on the use of the phrase free of. For example, it could be
deceptive to say your product is free of a substance if it
contains something else that poses a similar environmental
risk. What if your product contains
just a trace amount of the substance? You may be able to make a free
of claim if you meet a three-part test. Your product contains no more of
the substance than would be found in background levels. The amount in your product
doesn’t cause the harm that consumers typically associate
with the substance. And you didn’t intentionally
add it to your product. Be careful not to imply that
you’ve improved your product by removing something
if it wasn’t there in the first place. That’s the fast recap. The Green Guides offer more
details for advertisers including examples on how to
apply these principles in your own marketing. To read the guides and find out
more about keeping your claims compliant, visit the
Environmental Marketing section of the Business Center
at business.ftc.gov.

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