Federal Trade Commission Issues New "Green Guides"

10/9/2012

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently announced the revision of its Green Guides for eco-friendly and green advertising and marketing claims. The new guides were created after the FTC found that consumers interpreted green or eco-friendly claims and labels as promising results far beyond the actual attributes of products and services. The revised guidelines present challenges to marketers, manufacturers and retailers of products who are now tasked with deciphering which parts of the guides are law, and which are merely suggestions.

The intent of the revised Guides is to encourage marketers to be truthful about claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products and services. One significant change from predecessor guides is the FTC's warning to marketers against making broad, unqualified claims that a product is eco-friendly or green. Now, marketers must have reliable scientific evidence to support the claimed benefits of using the product or service. The Guides include new sections on the use of marketing claims and labels for carbon offsets, "green" certifications or seals, renewable energy, and renewable materials. They also define what the FTC may find deceptive for different products or services. For example, seals and certifications must provide clear and prominent language conveying that the certification refers only to specific and limited benefits; failure to issue this language may be deemed deceptive.

The Guides devote a new section to certifications and seals of approval. It emphasizes that certifications and seals may be considered endorsements and include examples that illustrate how marketers may disclose a "material connection," which might affect the credibility of an endorsement. Additionally, the Guides caution marketers not to use environmental certifications or seals that fail to convey the basis for their certification or seal.

While directive in nature, the Guides are not black-letter law. They are guidelines, which can make interpreting what you are legally obligated to include in your eco-friendly or green label or claims more difficult. Equally important is knowing what constitutes reliable scientific evidence to support your claims. If knowing how to interpret and apply the Green Guides is central to your business or litigation, then contact David Governo at dgoverno@governo.com or Lonna Carter at lcarter@governo.com of the Governo Law Firm. Our full service environmental law practice group defends environmental claims and offers consultative services to businesses facing both compliance and litigation challenges.


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