On Monday the Federal Trade Commission updated their Green Marketing Guidelines, known as the Green Guides, to help limit misleading and false claims that products are ‘green’ or ‘environmentally friendly.’ This is the first revision since 1998. The new sections include the use of carbon offsets, “green” certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims.
The FTC said "very few products, if any" deliver the far-reaching environmental benefits that consumers associate with such claims, which are nearly impossible to substantiate anyway.
Among the updates, the FTC warns marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that their products are eco-friendly or green. Such terms can deceive consumers and are difficult to prove. For example, some products claim to be ‘eco-friendly’ because they are biodegradable. In reality these products are biodegradable in certain conditions only such as a high heat composter, or over a period of years. In average situations, sitting in a garbage dump for example, the product will not biodegrade quickly or at all. The new guidelines establish a one-year time frame for products labeled ‘biodegradable’ and they must be returned to nature (not the dump).
Updates also include clarity on ‘compostable’, ‘ozone’, ‘recyclable content’, and ‘source reduction claims.’
Buyer be warned, the guides still lack definition of ‘sustainable,’ ‘natural,’ and ‘organic’ terms which the FTC claims lack a basis for meaningful guidance or wants to avoid duplicate or contradictory advice of other agencies.
Another downside is that these additions are only guidelines and not rules or regulations (though, the FTC can impose fines). Companies won’t completely cease false claims, but hopefully this is a big step forward for consumer rights and environmental transparency.