The FTC's New Marketing Rules To Squash Greenwashing

It's been scarily simple for companies to make false claims about how good their products are for the environment, but now the government is stepping in.

green ribbon

It's scarily simple for companies to make inauthentic "green" claims about their products. They can just slap an unregulated green seal of approval on their product. They could just make up their own green approval program, even. But that's all about to change later this year when the FTC updates its Green Guides for the use of environmental marketing claims. We had a chance to speak with Mark Petruzzi, VP of Certification & Strategic Relations at Green Seal (a nonprofit third-party certification agency that worked with the FTC on the guides), about what the changes will mean in the world of marketing.

The biggest change, according to Petruzzi, is that companies will no longer be able to stick unverified labels, logos, and seals of approval on their products without qualifying their statements. "There is a proliferation of companies putting a green logo on their own product.... But if a logo is on a product, the consumer naturally assumes it's a third-party certification," says Petruzzi. Under the FTC's new rules, companies will have to clearly state what logos mean and who is verifying them. And violators could be taken to court by the FTC.

Similar rules will apply to trade associations that have come out with their own green labeling programs--albeit ones that usually have low points of entry. "At the end of day, these are industry associations," says Petruzzi. "Now they need to say that they are industry associations."

All of this should benefit third-party certifiers like Green Seal, simply because companies can use these certifications without attaching embarrassing qualifying language (i.e. "This logo comes from an internal green certification program").

But are these changes too late for consumers who have become so wary of false claims and greenwashing that they'll never believe anything? Petruzzi hopes that consumers will ultimately start to take environmental claims more seriously. "We need to see people treating environmental claims with the same seriousness that they treat other health and safety claims."

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

Read More: Can the Green Building Council Polish LEED's Tarnished Standards?

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