Four paint companies settle with the FTC over eco claims

Primer

In recent years, green marketing claims, including claims that certain paint products are “emission-free” or “VOC-free,” have become common. Other environmental claims popular with paint companies include assurances that their products are specifically safe for populations that face heightened risks from environmental toxins, such as infants, pregnant women and individuals with respiratory problems.

A Shellacking

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently lodged separate complaints against paint manufacturers Benjamin Moore & Co., ICP Construction Inc., YOLO Colorhouse LLC and Imperial Paints LLC. The complaints shed light on the FTC’s approach to assessing green advertising in the paint industry. While each complaint addresses different actions and behaviors, the common elements are straightforward. The Commission alleged that 1) the companies lack adequate substantiation to back up their advertising, 2) specific claims that the products are emission-free during painting are false, and 3) the companies could not demonstrate that their paints would not issue chemicals that might harm customers.

All four companies settled, agreeing to the same four basic provisions. First, the companies will cease making unsubstantiated emission-free claims “unless both content and emissions are actually zero, or emissions are at trace levels, beginning at application and thereafter.” Second, they will cease making claims without scientific evidence to support them. Third, the companies are required to send letters and new packaging labels to their distributors, asking them to either eliminate or correct the misleading packaging labels. Finally, they are prohibited from providing other parties with the means to make the misleading claims. The public comment period on the proposed agreements ends on Aug. 10.

The Takeaway

In summarizing the settlements, the FTC offers advice to companies who are tempted to tout the safety or environmental benefits of paint products. Substantiation of claims, along with appropriate qualifications and limitations, is crucial. In the above complaints, for instance, the Commission focused on how “emission-free” claims needed to qualify whether the emissions were negligible during painting or after the paint had dried. The FTC also focused on the tendency of companies to award themselves with “green seals”: logos with reassuring titles like “Green Promise” and “Eco Assurance.” These seals, according to the FTC, are misleading because they appear to be official designations by independent reviewers, when in fact, they were created by the companies themselves.