The FTC proposed long-awaited revisions to its “Green Guides” on October 6, 2010. According to the FTC, the changes were designed to provide enhanced guidance on environmental marketing claims already addressed in the Green Guides, and to provide new guidance on environmental marketing claims not previously included in the Green Guides.

Among the changes, perhaps the most impactful will be the FTC’s insight as to broad environmental claims (e.g., “green,” “eco-friendly,” “environmentally friendly”). According to the FTC’s consumer perception study, these types of claims are likely to suggest to consumers that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. However, very few products have all the benefits that consumers seem to attribute to such claims, and as such, these claims are difficult to substantiate. The FTC provides that such claims should be limited to a specific benefit, and any qualifications must be clear and prominent. This change will likely have the most sweeping effect, as it will cause marketers to reconsider any general environmental claims to make them more specific and detailed.

The FTC also included a new section cautioning marketers against using certifications or seals of approval that do not state the basis for certification. Such unqualified certifications or seals of approval communicate general environmental benefit claims, and as such, any qualifications that apply to the certifications or seals should be clear, prominent, and specific.

Other changes include further guidance on environmental claims already addressed in the Green Guides, such as “degradable”, “compostable”, “ozone-safe/ozone-friendly”, “recyclable” and “free-of/non-toxic”.

The FTC has also included new proposed guidance for claims that have not been previously addressed. In particular, there is new guidance as to the use of “renewable materials” and “renewable energy”, where, among other things, the FTC advises marketers to qualify these claims with specific information about the renewal material or the source of renewable energy. The FTC has also included new advice pertaining to claims of “carbon offsets”, advising marketers to disclose if the emission reductions will not occur within two years and to avoid these claims if the activity that produces the offset is already required by law.

The FTC's press release includes links to the revised Guides, a two-page summary, and guidance for business and consumers. The FTC is seeking public comments on the proposed changes until December 10, 2010; you can read comments here.