November 19 2012
by Martha Wampler, GreenBiz
We’ve been asked a few times for our point of view on the new FTC Green Guides,
and it essentially boils down to this: We’re thrilled that the FTC is
working to make claims clearer for consumers (we see a tremendous amount
of confusion in our studies about certain terms and claims), and we
hope the FTC will go a bit further in the future. For instance, we’d
love to see them tackle the term “natural,” given the amount of consumer
confusion we see about that.
As for what’s on tap in the new guidelines, you can see the full version of the FTC Green Guides by clicking this link, but here are some key points:General Claims: Terms like “green” or “eco-friendly” are deemed too broad and difficult to substantiate. Avoid them.
Certifications/Seals of Approval: You’ll need to
specify if the certifications on your products are from an industry
trade group, and you’ll have to substantiate any claims that come with
Degradable: You can only say a product is degradable if it can completely decompose in one year.
Compostable: To be called compostable, your product
must break down in “approximately the same time as the materials with
which it is composted” – and no toxins can be released in the process.
You must also clearly indicate the limited extent of composting programs
Recyclable: Recycling claims can only be made if the
entire product or package is recyclable and recycling facilities are
available to a substantial majority (e.g., 60 percent) of residents in
the communities where the product is sold. Otherwise, you must qualify recyclable claims based on the percentage of consumers or communities that have access to recycling facilities.
Recycled Content: You must indicate the specific percentage of recycled materials in the product if it is less than 100 percent.
Renewable Energy: Unless a product is made with 100
percent renewable energy, you will have to calculate and provide the
percentage. Additionally, if your company produces renewable energy but
sells its renewable energy credits (RECs), you cannot say you use
renewable energy in the production process.
Carbon Offsets: You will need scientific evidence to
support carbon offset claims, but don’t advertise them if carbon offsets
are required by law for your business. You should also disclose if the
emission reductions that are being offset by a consumer’s purchase will
not occur within two years.
Renewable Materials: Some consumers may misinterpret
renewable materials to mean a product was made with recycled content, is
recyclable, and/or is biodegradable, so you should provide specific
information about what the renewable materials are, how it fits the
definition of renewable, and its sourcing. An example of an acceptable
claim would be, “Made from 100 percent rapidly renewable bamboo grown in
Ozone-Safe and Ozone-Free Claims: The guides state that it is deceptive to claim a product, package or service is safe for the ozone layer or atmosphere.
Source Reduction Claims: You should qualify and
substantiate source reduction claims as needed. For example, marketers
could claim “10 percent less waste” than the previous version only if
they can substantiate that the product’s disposal results in a 10
percent reduction of waste by weight or volume in the solid waste
Refillable Claims: If you’re going to say something
is “refillable,” you must provide the means to refill the package. This
means you will have to either sell a product that will refill the
original package or have a system to collect and refill it.
Free-Of: Even though certain “free-of” claims may be
true, they could be considered deceptive if other substances within the
product pose the same or similar environmental risks. It would also be
considered misleading if you say a product is “free-of” a substance that
has never been associated with that product’s category.
Non-Toxic: The FTC considers that the claim “non-toxic” implies that an item is non-toxic to both humans
and the environment, so you need “competent and reliable scientific
evidence” that it is non-toxic to both the environment and humans.
Again, clarity on terms like “sustainable,” “natural” and “organic”
were not addressed in this go-round. While some may say that leaves the
door open to a variety of definitions and potentially deceptive
marketing, the FTC has made it abundantly clear that broad, non-specific
claims are misleading. The most important things to remember as you market your green
products is to be specific and clear, and to substantiate your claims.
Review the “green” claims on your products or packaging, and make sure
you have enough supporting evidence for the claim. If the claim could be
considered ambiguous, include additional language to specify
limitations or parameters for the claim. A good rule of thumb is “if you
doubt, take it out.” After all, its better to remove the claim than
have the FTC publicly file a complaint on your business.