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FTC’s Green Guides Could Nullify Environmental Seals of Approval

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is on track to release an updated set of Green Guides that are used by the agency to enforce environmental marketing laws against unfair and deceptive advertising, reports Advertising Age. Experts tell the magazine that the pending guidelines could make about 300 environmental seals of approval useless.

Christopher Cole, an advertising-law specialist and partner with law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, told Advertising Age that the guides could make most of the more than 300 environmental seals of approval now in use on packaging and products largely useless and possibly in violation of FTC standards.

They could also influence efforts by retailers such as Walmart to institute a sustainability-rating system for products, he said.

The guides are expected to tighten standards for packaging claims such as “recyclable” or “biodegradable”; regulate how marketers use terms such as “carbon neutral,”  and how close to the source of carbon output “carbon offsets” must be executed, according to the article.

The guidelines may also define other terms such as “sustainability” or address  “greenwashing” controversies such as how far companies can market themselves as green in advertising when they or their products also have a negative impact on the environment.

A FTC spokesman told the magazine that the commission is on track to issue updated guidelines by the end of the summer, and will likely cover areas that were the subject of FTC workshops over the past three years.

Last year, the FTC has held three workshops to examine issues concerning the marketing of carbon offsets and renewable energy, green packaging, and green buildings and textiles.

So far, the FTC has brought seven environmental advertising enforcement actions under the Obama adminstration, compared to zero during the eight years of the Bush administration, according to the article.

In June last year, the FTC charged Kmart Corp., Tender Corp., and Dyna-E International with making false and unsubstantiated claims that their paper products were “biodegradable.” In August 2009, 

The FTC also charged four companies — Sami Designs LLC, dba Jonäno; CSE Inc., Mad Mod and Pure Bamboo LLC and the M Group — selling clothing marketed as made from bamboo with deceptive advertising and marketing claims.

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5 thoughts on “FTC’s Green Guides Could Nullify Environmental Seals of Approval

  1. Not necessarily a bad thing. Too much industry posturing already. Test will be in the wisdom and foresight of the regs. Hope Chu is in the loop.

  2. Good to see the FTC finally getting this together. The Green Guides are horribly out of date, and the lack of guidelines (and enforcement) has created a wild west when it comes to green marketing.

    I do hope that either the FTC creates (or allows some existing) seals to continue, because removing all consumer aid may open the floodgates of greenwashing even more.

  3. I remain positive and optimistic that these actions will bring about change in the marketplace…but I reserve the notion that the corporations will scream foul and the FTC updates will be softened…basically to a new font being the only upgrade.

  4. Its about time. There are way too many seals. Some are good many are just profiteers who couldn’t get a real job. There carbon footprints almost always is much much larger than what they are trying to fix. Very similar to driving 20 miles to save 5 cents on a grocery item.

  5. I see repeated references to the ‘300+ labels’ out there, but few writers draw an important distinction between the many seals making empty or misleading claims and small few backed by independent, 3rd-party certification against a published, publicly accessible standard. Looks as though the former will be justifiably hurt by this soon-to-be-published guide, and the latter will become all the more important.

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