WASHINGTON — The Federal Trade Commission is proposing revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims — or “Green Guides” — that focus on bridging the gap between environmental marketing claims and consumer assumptions. The proposed changes would modify the current guidelines for claims such as environmentally friendly, degradable, compostable, ozone-safe/ozone-friendly, recyclable, and free of certain substances or nontoxic.
Shoppers currently place a lot of trust in these terms. The FTC found that consumers tend to believe claims of environmental benefits extend beyond most products' actual environmental benefits. As a result, the agency hopes to tighten its guidelines, so that marketers promoting products claiming to be “green” or “eco-friendly” will have to avoid broad, unqualified statements that mislead consumers.
Many of the revisions clarify existing restrictions on green marketing terms or provide narrower environmental definitions based on how most consumers perceive the terms. For example, in its proposal summary, the FTC states that a product claiming to be “compostable” should “break down in approximately the same time as the materials with which it is composted.” Previously, the guides did not specify an exact decomposition time.
Similarly, the new rules would require items that claim to be degradable to completely decompose within one year. The FTC warns marketers to avoid making degradability claims on “items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities because decomposition will not occur in one year.”
New guidelines drafted for claims dealing with carbon offsets and renewable materials and energy — which hadn't previously been mentioned in the guides — emphasize accountability and transparent practices. One of the new proposed restrictions asks marketers to have scientific evidence for carbon offset claims. Another proposed restriction advises marketers to “qualify claims with specific information” about renewable material, including sourcing information, what material is renewable and why.
The revisions do not propose specific guidelines for the marketing terms “organic,” “natural” and “sustainable.” In a press release, the FTC stated the reasons for not addressing these terms is because “the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or because the FTC wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates rules or guidance of other agencies,” such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program. The FTC avoids debate on the term “natural,” noting that it can have different meanings depending on context.