After considering environmental benefit claims made by Kauai Coffee Co., the National Advertising Division recommended that certain ads for the company's single-serve coffee pods be discontinued.

The self-regulatory body requested that the company substantiate its express claims such as "Don't trash the Earth with your coffee. Brew & Renew," "Kauai Coffee comes in newly certified 100% compostable pods that work in all K-Cup brewers," and "Now you can enjoy the great taste and convenience of single-serve coffee without worrying about the environmental impact. Our certified 100% compostable pod is compatible with all K-Cup brewers and is designed to go back to the land—not the landfill."

In addition, the NAD evaluated implied claims that Kauai Coffee pods are compostable in a home compost pile and that the environmental benefits of the pods are significant.

The advertiser provided certification from the Biodegradable Products Institute (BPI) for its "certified 100% compostable claim" and argued that the elimination of the more traditional, plastic format of single-serve coffee "is both [an] evident and significant" benefit.

While the NAD appreciated Kauai Coffee's efforts to develop new types of product packaging, it found that the advertiser's claims failed to include the "significant limitation" that the products are only compostable in industrial facilities. The print advertisement featured the "complete absence of any disclaimer indicating that the 'certified 100% compostable pods' are only compostable in industrial facilities," the NAD wrote.

"Although this significant limitation appears in a barely legible font on the photo of the Kauai Coffee box, and in a similarly tiny font within the BPI certification seal itself, the phrase 'compostable in industrial facilities' does not modify the main claim, nor is it sufficiently clear and conspicuous such that consumers will notice, read and understand it," the self-regulatory body said. A reference in the ad to "Learn more at coffeecomposting.com" was insufficient, as the NAD has consistently held that consumers should not have to search to learn more about the limitations of an advertising claim.

The print ad was particularly problematic given the audience targeted by the advertiser: mainly senior citizens, who may have impaired vision and are less likely than a younger population to notice important disclosures.

In harmonizing its decision with the FTC's Green Guides, the NAD found the advertising also overstated the environmental benefits of Kauai Coffee's products. "The advertisement boldly presents the Kauai coffee pods as an alternative to the 'Over 11 Billion K-CUPS [that] go into America's landfills each year,' however there was no evidence in the record quantifying the actual reduction (or potential reduction) of solid waste from the use of Kauai compostable coffee pods," the NAD wrote, and "given the fact that industrial facilities do not currently exist in the majority of communities, the environmental benefits are significantly overstated."

The NAD recommended the advertiser discontinue or modify the advertisement to include the language "Compostable in industrial facilities. Check locally, as these do not exist in many communities. Not certified for backyard composting."

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

Why it matters: "While manufacturers of single-use food service products should certainly be permitted, and even encouraged, to educate consumers about their innovations in the arena of disposable products, it is equally important that the benefits of such products be promoted in a responsible manner that does not overstate what has been proven by scientific evidence," the NAD wrote. In addition to obeying the requirement that advertising be truthful, accurate and nonmisleading, marketers should ensure that they comply with the FTC's Green Guides and avoid overstating the environmental benefits of their products.