FTC guidelines will limit “eco-friendly” labels on products

The Federal Trade Commission has issued an update to its marketing standards for products claiming to have environmentally-friendly ingredients or that promise energy-saving discounts.

According to a report at HomeChannelNews.com, the updated “Green Guides” from the FTC are in response to the rush of products hitting store shelves that claim to have environmentally-friendly ingredients or results that often purport to save consumers money, especially on energy bills.

Everything from household cleaners and laundry detergents to large home appliances are sold these days with promises of environmentally-friendly or “green” benefits. If one particular product touted “green” benefits, then its competition soon would. The results of this marketing trend have been a lot of misleading claims or downright lies about these purported benefits. As consumers become more aware of the benefits of actual “green” consumption and purchasing products that actually are environmentally-friendly, they’re likely to seek products that make these claims.

The report indicates the updated guidelines for “green” marketing from the FTC center on “carbon offsets, green certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials.”

In a statement announcing the updated guidelines, FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said, “The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them.

“But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated.  The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people and it is one reason why we had such broad support.”

Specifically, the FTC warns marketers to avoid using “broad, unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly’ because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits,” the agency said in its release. These claims are practically impossible to back, regulators believe.

The agency also wants to reduce the claims that purport a product to break-down completely. This mostly applies to product packaging. A company must be able to prove that a product will break down completely in a year before making claims about its “degradable” qualities. Companies must also be prepared to back claims regarding how much of a certain product is made from a renewable source, like recycled paper or glass, for example.

Companies should also limit the use of endorsements on a product from agencies that are most likely to back “green” products. The agency that gives its “seal of approval” on a product should be able to produce material evidence that one purportedly “green” product is better than another.

The updates do not address the use of some other popular buzzwords in marketing “green” products, namely those that apply to food. The FTC avoided issuing guidelines on the use of the terms: organic, natural, and sustainable. Those claims, the agency noted, are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program.

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