The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has determined that its “Green Guides,” which “help marketers avoid making deceptive claims by outlining general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims,” should be retained and updated. Initially developed in 1992 and last revised in 1998, the guides also provide information about how “reasonable consumers are likely to interpret particular claims, how marketers can substantiate them, and how they can qualify those claims to avoid consumer deception.”  

The proposed changes include new guidance on the “use of product certifications and seals of approval, ‘renewable energy’ claims, ‘renewable materials’ claims, and ‘carbon offset’ claims.” They do not address use of the terms “sustainable,” “natural” and “organic.” Public comments are requested by December 10, 2010.  

FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz was quoted as saying, “In recent years, businesses have increasingly used ‘green’ marketing to capture consumers’ attention and move Americans toward a more environmentally friendly future. But what companies think green claims mean and what consumers really understand are sometimes two different things. The proposed updates to the Green Guides will help businesses better align their product claims with consumer expectations.”  

Among other proposed revisions are warnings that marketers not label their products with general claims, such as “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly,” because consumers apparently give these statements a broad interpretation. According to FTC, “Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.” The proposed revisions also advise product manufacturers to “provide specific information about the materials and energy used,” when making claims about the use of “renewable materials” and “renewable energy.”  

Among the questions about which FTC is seeking comment are (i) “How should marketers qualify ‘made with renewable materials’ claims, if at all, to avoid deception?”; (ii) “Should the FTC provide guidance concerning how long consumers think it will take a liquid substance to completely degrade?”; and (iii) “How do consumers understand ‘carbon offset’ and ‘carbon neutral’ claims? Is there any evidence of consumer confusion concerning the use of these claims?” FTC also proposes reorganizing and simplifying the guides to make them easier to use. See FTC Press Release, October 6, 2010.