The FTC recently announced that it had reached a settlement with Down to Earth Designs, d/b/a gDiapers, regarding composition, biodegradability, compostability, and disposability claims featured on the company’s infant diaper products.gDiapers markets and sells baby wipes (gWipes), disposable diaper liners (gRefills), and reusable diaper shells (gPants). According to the FTC’s complaint, the company advertised both gRefills and gWipes as biodegradable and compostable absent any qualification to either claim and, in some instances, as “certified biodegradable.”  The company also claimed that gPants were plastic-free, that users could “flush, compost, or toss” gRefills, and that gWipes would break down “much faster than any other disposable baby wipes on the market.”

The FTC alleges that the claims were deceptive because gDiapers did not have adequate substantiation for its claims or, in the case of the “plastic-free” claim, simply weren’t true.  The proposed consent order requires gDiapers to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support its claims and refers to specific standards consistent with the FTC’s Green Guides.

The lesson for marketers here is a basic one that applies to all advertising, but particularly environmental messaging:  beware of broad, unqualified claims.  Consumers have varying interpretations of what “biodegradability” means and how long it might take, but the FTC has one interpretation, and it’s found in the Green Guides.  We also note that the gDiapers order prohibits “free of” claims absent competent and reliable scientific evidence.  The FTC previously addressed “free of” claims last year relative to “no-VOC” claims and settled on more specific terms than those found in the gDiaper order.