The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, also known as “The Green Guides,” were created “to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive,” according to the FTC website. FTC enforcement of The Green Guides is in full swing: FTC recently took enforcement actions against nine companies who allegedly violated The Green Guides.

Three mattress companies agreed to settlements over alleged violations. Relief-Mart, Essentia Natural Memory Foam Company and Ecobaby Organics all claimed their products have no volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and are “chemical-free.” The FTC alleged that these companies have no “reasonable basis” to support claims that their products are “free-of” VOCs and chemicals. Based on The Green Guides, a company can only make a “free-of” claim when three criteria are met:

  1. The level of the specified substance is no more than that which would be found as an acknowledged trace  contaminant or background level;
  2. the substance’s presence does not cause material harm that consumers typically associate with that substance; and
  3. the substance has not been added intentionally to the product.

The FTC stated that the companies lacked the reliable scientific evidence that was needed to prove the “free-of” claims. As part of the consent orders that were entered in November 2013, the mattress companies are prohibited from making VOC-free claims and claims of any other environmental benefits without providing appropriate scientific test data.

Six other companies faced enforcement actions with the FTC over claims that their products or additives are biodegradable. According to The Green Guides, any claim that a product that enters the solid waste stream is biodegradable must be backed with competent and reliable scientific evidence that shows the entire product will fully decompose within one year after disposal.

The FTC is taking a keen interest in environmental claims about products. Companies that are going to make claims must be sure to follow The Green Guides and ensure that they have sound scientific evidence to support their claims. Without this, a company may risk enforcement action.