GreenPan, the maker of non-stick cookware, should modify or discontinue certain advertising claims, including that its products are “eco-friendly” and “healthier and safer” than other non-stick cookware, the National Advertising Division recently recommended.

Teflon manufacturer E.I. DuPont de Nemours challenged GreenPan’s advertising, which included claims like “No potentially dangerous chemicals inside”; “Completely PTFE-free”; and “GreenPan products are healthier, safer and better for the environment than all PTFE products.”

DuPont manufactures non-stick coating systems for cookware using PTFE. Traditionally, non-stick cookware was manufactured using perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, which GreenPan argued has been shown to be unsafe, unhealthy, and environmentally harmful. DuPont contended that GreenPan’s claims conflate PFOA with PTFE and convey the false and disparaging message that its products are healthier and safer than PTFE-coated products, including Teflon.

Although GreenPan’s claims that its products are free of both PFOA and PTFE are literally true, “the frequent juxtaposition of GreenPan’s PFOA-free claims with broad ‘eco-friendly’ claims and tag lines, and the frequent juxtaposition of its PTFE-free claims with broad health and safety claims, transformed what may be compositional claims when standing alone into comparative superiority claims,” the NAD concluded.

The NAD recommended that GreenPan discontinue or modify its PFOA-free claims to avoid conveying the unsupported message that PTFE coatings are made with PFOA and, therefore, that its own products are better for the environment and healthier and safer than PTFE products. However, the NAD noted that GreenPan could still describe the composition of its products as PFOA-free and PTFE-free and state that the GreenPan manufacturing process is more environmentally friendly than using a PFOA processing aid, as long as it does so in a nonmisleading manner and does not expressly state or impliedly suggest product superiority over all PTFE non-stick coatings. The NAD also allowed GreenPan to keep its name, finding that no evidence existed of consumer confusion.

The NAD also expressed concern about GreenPan’s general, unqualified environmental claims, including the tagline “Health*Environment*Convenience.” This concern comes on the heels of the FTC’s recently updated Green Guides, which advised marketers to avoid making unqualified general environmental benefit claims because “it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate all reasonable interpretations.” Thus the NAD recommended that GreenPan discontinue its unqualified “eco-friendly” claims, as it “could reasonably convey the message that GreenPan Thermolon cookware has far-reaching environmental benefits or that it has no negative environmental impact,” in contravention of the Green Guides.

The NAD further found that the combination of unqualified claims with the GreenPan name and imagery like dewy grass blades and a green apple in the logo conveys “the message that the product is more environmentally beneficial overall because of the particular touted benefits.” Despite the accuracy of the claims – PFOA-free, PTFE-free, no harmful fumes – “there is no evidence analyzing the trade-offs resulting from the specified benefits to substantiate that the product is in fact more environmentally beneficial overall than competing non-stick pans. Nor does any other evidence support the message of broad environmental benefits conveyed by the challenged claims,” the NAD concluded. It recommended that such claims be discontinued.

The self-regulatory body also recommended that GreenPan follow the FTC’s Green Guides in developing future marketing concerning the recyclability of its product packaging.

To read the NAD’s press release about the decision, click here.

Why it matters: Environmental claims continue to be a hot topic for regulators. This decision highlights two important lessons for advertisers making green claims. First, environmental marketing claims should not overstate – directly or by implication – an environmental attribute or benefit. Thus, marketers may want to avoid making general environmental benefit claims. Second, a claim that is literally true may, in the context in which it is presented, still convey a message that is false or misleading.