In three recent settlements with the FTC, Relief-Mart, Inc., Essentia Natural Memory Foam Company, Inc., and Ecobaby Organics, Inc. agreed to discontinue unsupported claims that their mattresses are free of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). VOCs are carbon-containing compounds that may be harmful to human health and the environment. Under the settlements, the mattress companies are prohibited from claiming their products lack VOCs without competent and reliable scientific evidence that the mattresses actually contain either zero micrograms per cubic meter or no more than a trace amount of VOCs. The FTC also challenged a number of other claims made by some but not all of the companies, including that certain mattresses were chemical free, without toxic substances, and lacked odors; were made from 100 percent natural materials; and had been independently certified by an organic mattress organization. In each instance, the relevant company agreed not to make these and other environmental benefit claims unless they are true, not misleading, and supported by scientific evidence. The FTC has added a new post on its Business Blog page about mattresses and VOCs titled "FTC to mattress companies: Don't pad your green claims."

Tip: Environmental benefit claims are closely scrutinized by the FTC and must be substantiated by competent and reliable scientific evidence. When marketers say a product is "free of" an ingredient, the product must not contain the ingredient or have only a trace amount. The "trace amount" test is met if: 1) the level of the ingredient is less than that which would be found as an acknowledged trace contaminant or background level; 2) the ingredient's presence does not cause material harm that consumers typically associate with it; and 3) the ingredient has not been added intentionally. The FTC's Green Guides are a valuable resource when analyzing whether a "green" claim is adequately supported.