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FTC Cracking Down on Greenwashing

FTC Green Guides Review

Greenwashers, be warned: the Federal Trade Commission is on to you.

The FTC has unveiled the first update to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims since 1998, and it prohibits companies from make sweeping, blanket statements about how products are “eco-friendly” or “environmentally friendly.” According to the FTC, “Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to
perceive from such claims, making them nearly impossible to
substantiate.” If a statement can’t be proven, the FTC won’t allow it.

As part of the update, marketers will be required to:

  • limit claims to specific benefits;
  • refrain from making “unqualified degradable claims for items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities” (because the items won’t decompose within a year);
  • disclose material connections to green seal certifiers;
  • substantiate all claims even if third-party certification has been received;
  • qualify claims about renewable materials with information about what the material is, how it’s sourced, and why it’s renewable;
  • provide “competent and reliable scientific evidence” for carbon offset claims

The FTC’s guide is a much-needed update; as it stands, it’s virtually impossible to sort out greenwashing from legitimate claims. The new rules, set to go into effect in 2011, will change that. Hopefully, it’s not too late.

[FTC Green Guides Review]

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.AS