The Federal Trade Commission released its proposed revisions to the Green Guides this week. The proposed revisions mainly strengthen, clarify, or enhance the accessibility of the current guidance on general “green” claims, the use of environmental seals, and use of specific claims such as “compostable,” “degradable,” and “recyclable.”

The proposed revisions include prohibiting unqualified general environmental benefit claims, such as “eco-friendly” or “green,” which are technically allowed under the current guides. Under the revised guides, environmental benefit claims can be made only if qualified and such qualification should be clear and prominent and be limited to the specific benefit conveyed by the product.  

The proposed revisions also address the use of certification and seals of approval in advertising. Specifically, the FTC’s revisions emphasize that the use of certification or seals of approval are endorsements regulated by the FTC’s Endorsement Guides such that disclosure of material connections may be required. Furthermore, use of certifications/seals should clearly communicate the material limitations of the certification/seal.  

With respect to specific claims, the FTC proposed the following revisions:

Degradable  

  • Unqualified degradable claims should not be made about products intended for disposal in landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities.
  • Unqualified degradable claims should not be made unless the product will completely breakdown in no more than one year after typical disposal.  

Compostable  

  • Unqualified compostable claims can be made if the product or package will break down in the same approximate amount of time as the materials with which it is composted.  

Free-of/Non-Toxic

  • “Free-of” claims generally should not be used if the product or package contains substances that pose the same environmental risks as the substance advertised as not present  
  • “Free-of” claims generally should not be used where the substance not present has never been associated with the product.  
  • “Non-toxic” claims generally convey the message that the product is “non-toxic” for humans and the environment and thus, both interpretations should be substantiated or appropriately qualified.  

Recyclable  

  • Advertisers should qualify recyclable claims so as to not misrepresent the availability of recycling programs and collection sites for the product available to consumers.  

The proposed revisions address several claims not previously addressed by the current Green Guides including the following:  

Renewable Energy  

  • Claims should not be made if the product, or any part thereof, was manufactured using fossil fuels.  
  • Claims should be qualified to specify the source of the renewable energy.  
  • Claims should be qualified if less than all or virtually all of the manufacturing process was powered with renewable energy or conventional energy offset by renewable energy certificates.  
  • Claims should not be made if the marketer generates renewable energy but sells renewable energy certificates for all the renewable energy generated.  

Renewable Materials  

  • Claims must be substantiated and qualified by specifying the material used, how it is sourced, and why it is renewable.  
  • Claims should not be made unless the product or package is made entirely with renewable materials.

Carbon Offset  

  • Claims must be backed by competent and reliable scientific evidence, including appropriate accounting methods.  
  • If offset purchase funds emission reductions will not occur for two years or longer such information should be disclosed.  
  • Claims should not be advertised if the carbon offset is already required by law.

TIP: The comment period on the proposed revisions is open until December 10, 2010. However, advertisers should consider shaping their environmental claims to comply with the proposed revisions as it is unlikely that the final guides will change substantially.