On the heels of a similar enforcement action, the FTC recently sent 14 warning letters to the manufacturers of windows and window glass cautioning the recipients that they may be making unsupported energy-savings claims.
Earlier this year the agency filed an administrative complaint against five companies that it alleged were making exaggerated and unsupported claims about the energy efficiency of their windows and how much money consumers could save on their heating and cooling bills by installing them. The defendants settled the charges by agreeing to stop making “up to” claims about the amount of money consumers might save, as well as halt making energy-savings claims absent reliable scientific evidence.
In its letters the agency warned the recipients about similar conduct.
In one letter, to Virginia-based West Window Corp., the FTC said it reviewed the company’s Web site and found questionable claims, including “Energy-efficient windows can help you save a bundle. In fact, you can reduce your energy bills by one-third by simply using low-emissivity glass.”
While the agency said it “hasn’t decided that [the] claims violate the law,” the letter urged the company to review its marketing materials, both on the Web site and in other media, including materials given to dealers and those used during in-home presentations.
Specifically, the agency emphasized the following points:
- Energy-savings claims must be backed by scientific evidence. This includes claims about efficiency, energy savings, fuel compensation, operation cost, cost recovery, or “payback” of an energy-saving product.
- Be specific about the type of savings consumers can expect. The agency noted that a difference exists between total home energy savings and heating and cooling savings. Claims should state whether the savings will impact the overall home energy bill or just a heating or cooling savings.
- Avoid deception when making “up to” claims. To avoid deception, marketers must be able to substantiate that all or almost all consumers are likely to get the specified percentage in an “up to” claim.
- Avoid deception when selecting home characteristics for modeling. Energy savings depend on a variety of factors, so companies should choose typical home characteristics when modeling to determine potential savings.
- Clearly and prominently disclose any assumptions. If certain circumstances are required for savings, the marketer must disclose the circumstances clearly and prominently near the claim.
- Exercise care in using testimonials or case studies. As stated in the FTC’s Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising, advertisers cannot convey claims through consumer testimonials that would not be substantiated if the advertiser made the claims directly.
- Be careful with claims made to dealers and retailers. Marketers can be liable for misleading or unsubstantiated claims made to dealers or retailers as well as for the claims those dealers or retailers pass on to customers.
To read the FTC’s warning letter to West Window Corp., click here.
Why it matters: The letters are the latest example of the agency’s focus on ensuring that companies can substantiate environmental claims with competent and reliable scientific evidence. However, all marketers should take note of the FTC’s reminders to use care with testimonials and case studies as well as its cautionary note about deceptive “up to” claims.