WASHINGTON (CN) – “Environmentally friendly” “eco-safe” and “degradable” are just three marketing claims that the Federal Trade Commission warns are difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate, and may expose product marketers to FTC enforcement action.
The warning comes as the agency asks for public comments on proposed revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims-sometimes called Green Guides-which were first published in 1992 to show marketers how to make supportable and accurate statements about their products. The guides have not been revised since 1998.
Revisions to the Green Guides fall into three main categories, one of which is how to adequately qualify general environmental claims about products that are unlikely to convey all the benefits or safeguards consumers associate with the claims. Marketers may only make unqualified claims if they can substantiate all express and implied claims.
A second area of concern, related to broad claims, is the use of certifications or seals of approval where neither the basis of the certification, nor information on the organization granting it, is provided to the consumer.
The agency considers certifications and seals endorsements, and packaging should include information that the certifications and seals of approval refer only to specific and limited benefits and then list those benefits. Marketers also should disclose if they have a financial relationship-beyond fees for evaluation-with the certifying organization.
Claims that items are biodegradable are of particular concern to the agency, and it warns that such items should decompose within a year. If a product needs to be recycled or processed through a landfill before it degrades, the product should be labeled as recyclable rather than degradable.
The proposed Guides include a three-tier analysis limiting claims of recyclability based on the availability of recycling programs in the area in which a product is marketed. To call an item recyclable, without qualification, would require a substantial majority of communities to have access to a recycling program, under the proposed rules. Qualifications such as “Package may not be recyclable in your area” and “Product is recyclable only in the few communities that have recycling programs for this product or its packing” are progressively more restrictive.
A third major area of concern, which the revised Green Guides will address for the first time, include claims about the use of “renewable materials,” “renewable energy” and carbon offset claims. They suggest that, “Marketers should disclose if the offset purchase funds emission reductions that will not occur within 2 years, should make sure that they do not double count offsets, and should not advertise an offset if the activity that produces the offset is already required by law.”
If marketers say that a product is made of renewable materials they would have to be specific about what the material is, how it is sourced and why it is renewable, and may only make an unqualified claim if the product is made entirely of the material.
The same cautions are applied to renewable energy, and whether the power used to manufacture any part of the product was derived from fossil fuels. In addition, marketers cannot double dip by claiming the product is made with renewable energy if the manufacturer also sells renewable energy credits generated from the manufacturing process.
The rewrite of the Green Guides is based on the FTC’s 2009 Environmental Marketing Consumer Perception Study, in which the agency found that consumers tend to give credence to claims made about the “greenness” of products.
The FTC will accept public comments on the proposed revisions to the guides until Dec. 10.