The Federal Trade Commission provides “Green Guides” under Section 5 of the FTC Act to help marketers avoid making deceptive or unfair statements  regarding  the  environmental  attributes of their products. These guidelines offer  general  principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims, advise how consumers are likely to interpret particular claims, and instruct marketers through examples how to qualify environmental claims to avoid deceiving consumers.

The Green Guides suggest that prior to making any environmental claims, marketers ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis – through reliable scientific evidence such as tests, analyses, research or studies by an objective qualified person who is generally accepted in the profession. The guidelines also recommend, in part, that marketers:

  • Place clear disclosures regarding an environmental claim in plain language and in large type in close proximity to the claim;
  • Specify whether an environmental claim refers to a product, the product’s packaging, a service, or a portion thereof;
  • Avoid making environmental claims that overstate an attribute or benefit, such as “50% more recycled content than before” when the recycled content only increased from 2% to 3%;
  • Clearly identify comparative environmental claims like “20% more recycled content”to avoid consumer confusion about the comparison;
  • Refrain from making broad, unqualified claims that a product  is  “environmentally  friendly,”  “eco-friendly”  or “green” because such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits and may improperly convey that a product has no negative environmental impact;
  • Abstain from making unqualified degradable claims for a solid waste product unless it can be proven that the entire product or package will completely break down to its natural state within a year of customary disposal;
  • Steer clear of making  unqualified  degradable  claims for items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities when these items will not degrade within a year; compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content, and source reduction claims;
  • Avoid environmental certifications or seals that do not clearly convey   the    basis for the certification, because such seals or certifications are likely to   convey   that   the product has general environmental benefits;
  • Properly qualify claimed carbon emissions reductions to ensure that (a) the same reduction is not sold more than one time, (b) a misrepresentation is not made regarding emission reductions that have already occurred or will occur in the future, and (c) no implications are conveyed that a carbon offset represents an emission reduction if the reduction, or the activity that caused the reduction, was required by law;
  • Draft qualified claims when advertising that a product, package or service is “free of abc,” or “does not contain xyz”, when the product, package or service contains or uses substances that pose similar environmental risks as abc or xyz;
  • Conduct competent and reliable scientific research to support a claim that a product, package or service is “non- toxic” for humans and the environment or clearly and prominently qualify the non-toxic claims to avoid deception;
  • Unequivocally qualify any claims that a product or package is made with “renewable energy” or that a service uses “renewable energy” if fossil fuel, or electricity derived from fossil fuel, is used to manufacture any part of the advertised item or is used to power any part of the advertised services, unless the marketer has matched such non-renewable energy use with renewable energy certificates; and
  • Plainly qualify any “made with renewable materials” claims unless the product or package (excluding minor incidental components) is made entirely with renewable materials.

As the FTC notes, “[t]he Green Guides are not agency rules or regulations. Instead, they describe the types of environmental claims the FTC may or may not find deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Under Section 5, the agency can take enforcement action against deceptive  claims,  which  ultimately  can  lead to Commission orders prohibiting deceptive advertising and marketing and fines if those orders are later violated.”

Source: For a complete copy of the Green Guides, visit: http://www.ftc.gov/sites/default/files/attachments/press- releases/ftc-issues-revised-green-guides/greenguides.pdf