The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has revised its Green Guides to “help marketers avoid making misleading environmental claims.” According to FTC, the revisions reflect “hundreds of consumer and industry comments” and include changes to existing Guides “as well as new sections on the use of carbon offsets, ‘green’ certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims.”

In particular, the updated guidance advises against “broad, unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly’” because such claims are “nearly impossible to substantiate.” FTC has also warned marketers about the use of unqualified degradable claims for solid waste products and items destined for landfills, incinerators or recycling facilities, and clarified its guidelines for compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content, and source reduction claims. In addition, the Green Guides now offer new sections covering issues not anticipated in previous editions, such as (i) certifications and seals of approval, (ii) carbon offsets, (iii) “free-of” claims, (iv) “non-toxic” claims, (v) “made with renewable energy” claims, and (vi) “made with renewable materials” claims.

The Commission has noted, however, that the revised Green Guides do not address the terms “sustainable,” “natural” or “organic,” partly to avoid contravening directives from other agencies. “The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” said FTC Chair Jon Leibowitz in an October 1, 2012, press release. “But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated. The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people and it is one reason why we had such broad support.”