FTC Proposes Revisions to ‘Green Guides’
By Larissa Faw
Green-friendly claims have been a proven lure in attracting consumers. One in four 18-24-year-olds (26%) will pay more for a product if it’s eco-friendly, according to Cone Marketing. However, green-friendly claims can vary widely or be extremely inconsistent.
Last week the FTC proposed new green claim guides that have implications for eco-friendly marketers and manufacturers (.pdf here). “They are useful for companies who want to know where the line is between deceptive and non-deceptive speech — and maybe for those who up to now have been stepping over the line,” says John Feldman of Reed Smith, a law firm that advises clients on eco-friendly practices.
Some of the commission’s proposed revisions include:
• Companies must distinguish on their packaging between being a member of an organization and being “certified.” Also, self-certification must be disclosed to consumers.
• Companies must place complete information about the respective green claim on their packaging. It’s not sufficient to refer consumers to a website, even if the site features comprehensive information.
• In order for a company to claim a product is degradable, the product must actually break down within a year.
• A product can only be called recyclable if proper facilities are available to 60% of consumers.
Notably, the Commission did not address several eco-friendly issues on the basis it did not have enough information from consumers in order to set standards:
• “Sustainable” products: Consumers feel the “sustainable” term does not possess a specific environmental issue, but rather encompasses a company’s overall philosophy. Therefore the Commission is unable to set firm guidelines.
• “Organic/natural”: While the USDA National Organic Program covers agricultural products, the Commission has not set guidelines addressing non-agricultural products at this time. This is partly because consumers have no perception on what constitutes a “natural” non-agricultural product.
• Life-cycle analysis: The Commission finds consumers “do not care” about the product life cycle, at least enough to warrant guidelines, says Feldman. The idea of cradle-to-grave documentation is also “too complex and variable” to set firm standards.