Do your Green Claims and Eco-Labels Comply with the FTC?
The marketplace is full of products with green claims and eco-labels that have varying degrees of credibility. This has made it difficult for consumers who want to purchase environmentally preferred products. To aid consumers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created a set of environmental benchmarks, known as the FTC Green Guides, which alleviate some of the confusion. Below is a breakdown of the guidelines to help you navigate today’s green marks and claims. The guidelines are separated into 17 different sections, some of which are more applicable in an every day situation than others. Below is an overview of the purpose of the Green Guides, along with an explanation of seven key sections. You can see explanations for all 17 guides at ProvenSustainable.com. The guides are designed to keep marketers from making deceptive or unfair environmental marketing claims, and apply to claims about the environmental attributes of a product, package, or service. The guides apply to environmental claims in all forms of marketing including labeling, advertising, promotional materials, etc… through words, symbols, logos, depictions, product brand names, etc… To ensure that all interpretations of the environmental claims are forthright, substantiated, and not misleading, marketing professional must represent them clearly, and all claims must be addressed. In order to achieve clear claims, the guides state that “marketers should use plain language and sufficiently large type, should place disclosures in close proximity to the qualified claim, and should avoid making inconsistent statements or using distracting elements that could undercut or contradict the disclosure.” Environmental claims also need to be clear as to what they apply to, such as products, packaging, or services. Most importantly, marketing claims should not overstate the environmental benefit or attribute. General Environmental Benefit Claims. Products, packages, or services should not imply that they offer general environmental benefits. Additionally, claims should not imply that an environmental benefit is significant, if it is not. Certifications and Seals of Approval. Products, packages, or services cannot imply or misrepresent that they have been endorsed or certified by an independent third party. This includes use of the name, logo, or seal of approval of a third-party certifier or organization. Certifications and seals must follow the FTC’s Endorsement Guides. This part of the guides is of particular note, as marketers need to provide additional clarity regarding whether a certification mark is from an industry organization or a third-party certification organization. An example of an industry association would be the Carpet and Rug Institute (CRI) or the Business and Institutional Manufacturer Association (BIFMA). Third-party organizations include GreenSeal and GREENGUARD Certification.
Do your Green Claims and Eco-Labels Comply with the FTC? Additionally, just because a product has a credible certification mark or seal of approval, does not mean that the company doesn’t have to substantiate their claims. This means that if you see a product on the shelf that only has a certification, with no additional information to clarify what the mark means; not only is the company violating FTC Green Guides, it may also be falsifying the environmental benefits of their product, packaging, or service. Membership marks are also addressed and required to have clarity to ensure there is no confusion on the part of the consumer. It must be clear that the organization is a member, and that the product has not been evaluated by the organization offering the membership. Free-Of Claims. Free-of claims are one of the harder claims to discern. According to the guides, an environmental claim could be deceptive if the product, package, or service uses a substance that pose the same harm to the environment as the substance it is claiming to be free-of. This in itself is hard, as we are not all scientists and don’t necessarily know which substances pose risks. A claim could also be deceptive if the substance it is claiming to be free of does not make sense for that particular product. For example, BPA is a big issue in children’s products, but would not be a concern in furniture. So, if a piece of furniture would claim to be BPA free, that would be a deceptive claim. A product, package, or service can claim free-of even if there are trace amounts of the substance present, and if no additional amount is added intentionally. A common example would be a product that has naturally occurring formaldehyde, but none added. This product would be able to use a free-of claim. Ozone-Safe and Ozone-Friendly Claims. Ozone-safe and ozone-friendly claims should not misrepresent that a product, package, or service is safe for, or friendly to, the ozone. For example, aerosol air fresheners are not ozonefriendly as they contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can contribute to ground level ozone. Recyclable Claims. Recycling may be one of the most recognizable environmental claims. With this type of claim, marketing professionals need to clearly state what is recyclable, the package, product, or both, and how much is recyclable. But it doesn’t stop there. If part of the product will keep it from being recycled, it should not make a claim at all. A good example would be a spray bottle. Recyclable claims also cover the availability of recycling centers and the types of materials they will take. For example, a few major cities have started recycling Styrofoam, but since there is not mass availability to all consumers, companies would not be able to market the product as just ‘recyclable.’ They would have to let consumers know that it is recyclable in limited areas. There is one other nuance to a recycling claim. Marketers can use a recycling triangle on a product to communicate its environmental attribute. If the familiar triangle with a number in the middle is placed in an obvious place, it is required to have substantiation. However, if it is placed in an inconspicuous place on a product, such as the bottom of a container, it is not considered to be a recyclable claim. Recycled Content Claims. One particular note of interest for recycled content claims is that the FTC does not require marketers to differentiate between pre-consumer (during the manufacturing process) and post-
Do your Green Claims and Eco-Labels Comply with the FTC? consumer (after consumer use) content, which is a requirement for most green building programs. Marketers can claim that entire products are made from recycled content, but if products are only partially made with recycled content they need to clearly label it as such. Refillable Claims. Refillable packages or containers have become more popular over the past several years, making it harder to know which ones are legitimate. For a refillable claim to be acceptable, the products needs to either state how the package can be refilled, or offer an additional product for purchase that can be used to refill the original package. While the FTC Green Guides may not cover every situation that is out there, it is a positive step forward in keeping the sustainability market honest. If you think a company is violating any of the sections of the Green Guides, please email email@example.com. Again, you can see a brief overview of all of the Green Guides on our website. ~ Mandi