U.S. coating makers are reviewing the Federal Trade Commission’s newly revised Green Guides, designed to crack down on false or misleading environmental marketing claims.
The American Coatings Association says it is analyzing the new Guides, released Oct. 1, “to determine the impact it will have on environmental claims and green certifications.”
|The FTC first issued its Green Guides in 1992. It revised the guide in 1996 and 1998 and proposed further revisions in October 2010.|
Once that review is complete, the ACA will provide a “comprehensive review” of the Green Guides to its membership. The association also plans to host a Virtual Learning Conference for members to discuss the revisions.
The guides are not subject to public comment.
‘Level the Playing Field’
“The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
“But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated. The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people, and it is one reason why we had such broad support.”
The FTC modified and clarified previous Guides and provided new guidance on environmental claims that were not common when the Guides were last reviewed. The new sections cover certifications and seals of approval; carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxic claims, “made with renewable energy” claims, and “made with renewable materials” claims.
The new guidelines are summarized here.
No More ‘Eco Friendly’
Among other changes, the Guides caution marketers “not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly’ because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits,” the FTC said.
|The guide warns marketers away from the claims “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly,” which suggest a product “has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits.”|
“Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.”
The Green Guides provide both general and specific advice to marketers. ACA notes that the FTC “can take legal action against marketers that make environmental or green product claims that are inconsistent with the Green Guides.”
Under the revisions, FTC cautions that certifications and seals of approval “may be endorsements, and must adhere to the provisions of FTC’s Endorsement Guides,” ACA reports. “Essentially, marketers should disclose any material connections to the certifying organization, i.e., those that could affect the credibility of the endorsement.”
‘Free of’ Claims
The revised Guides also address “free of” claims; that is, proclamations that a product does not contain a specified substance or substances. According to the Guides, marketers can make a “free of” claim for a product that contains some amount of a substance if:
• The product does not have more than trace amounts or background levels of the substance;
• The amount of substance present does not cause harm that consumers typically associate with the substance; and
• The substance was not added to the product intentionally.
The guidelines say marketers who “claim that their product is non-toxic need competent and reliable scientific evidence that the product is safe for both people and the environment.”