FTC’s Revised Green Guides

On October 6, 2010, the Federal Trade Commission proposed revised “Green Guides”, the guidance provided to corporate marketers to help them avoid making misleading environmental claims. The Green Guides were first issued in 1992 and revised in 1996 and 1998. The proposed Guides issued last week are designed to significantly strengthen the FTC’s prior guidance and provide new guidance on marketing claims that were not commonly asserted in the 1990’s before the “Green Revolution”. Although the FTC is seeking public comments on the proposed revisions through December 10, 2010, the guidance issued last week is not likely to be significantly modified.

Based upon a review of the new Green Guides, there are some basic rules of the road that, if followed, will help companies avoid “Greenwashing” claims and the consumer class action suits which are likely to become increasingly common: (1) Avoid unqualified general environmental marketing claims that are difficult, if not impossible, to substantiate; (2) General claims of environmental benefit should be accompanied by qualifiers that are clear, specific and accurate; (3) When using a certification or a seal of approval to promote the green nature of a product, use clear and prominent language to clarify that the certification or seal relates to a particular environmental attribute, which the company can substantiate; (4) If the company is endorsing a product with its own seal of approval, use clear prominent and qualifying language to alert consumers that the company created the certifying program, not an independent third-party; and (5) – Learn about budget skip bins in Sydney – If only a portion of the product is made with recycled or renewable material, clearly and prominently clarify which portion of the product is made from a recycled or renewable source.

Perhaps surprisingly, FTC’s consumer revealed research found that the public overestimates the significance of “Green” claims, which suggests that “greenwashing” is common and probably profitable. Despite consumers’ increasing cynicism, there must be some deep-seated need to believe that you are a buying an “eco-friendly” product. Going forward, companie seeking to comply with the new guidelines may want to rethink their marketing strategies and avoid making general claims of “environmental friendliness” and focus instead on advertising claims that can be are based on scientific research.

The FTC’s Green Guides are largely devoid of regulatory jargon often found regulations and are easy to read and understand. The Green Guides provide helpful examples of which kind of claims are acceptable and which are not. Following the adoption of the Green Guides, should we expect that FTC will initiate a spate of enforcement actions to emphasize to industry that the new Green Guides should be taken seriously?  You bet!.

“Greenwashing” and the Rise of Deceptive Trade Practice/False Advertising Class Action Claims

Greenwashing” involves misleading consumers concerning the environmental benefits of a product or service. In the “Six Sins of Greenwashing,” TerraChoice a marketing firm, studied over one thousand consumer products and concluded that all but one made claims that were demonstrably false or misled consumers. TerraChoice found that eco-marketers were guilty of what it described as the “Six Sins of Greenwashing,” which include:

  1. Sin of the Hidden Tradeoff
  2. Sin of No Proof
  3. Sin of Vagueness
  4. Sin of Irrelevance
  5. Sin of Fibbing
  6. Sin of the Lesser of Two Evils

Are companies that mislead well-intentioned customers into making purchases that do not deliver their promise subjecting themselves to class action claims alleging deceptive trade practice and false advertising? More than ever before, sellers of consumer goods are committing the “Sin of Vagueness” (for example) by claiming that their products are “chemical free,” “non-toxic,” “all natural,” or “environmentally friendly.” If a purchaser is induced to purchase a pesticide product because it claimed in advertising to be “chemical free” or “non-toxic,” and becomes ill, would a product liability claim be less difficult to prosecute?  More significantly, will the “Six Sins of Greenwashing” give rise to false advertising and deceptive trade practice class action suits?  In the absence of regulation concerning eco-marketing, what standard will courts hold consumer product sellers to in evaluating these claims. In general, product sellers can obtain guidance from:  (1) standards established by multiple private certification groups; (2) “Green Guides” issued by the United States Federal Trade Commission; and (3) ISO 14021 and ISO 14024, which provide standards on how best to communicate environmental product information. Voluntary adherence to any of these standards or guidelines will certainly not preempt a class action, but may provide credible defenses to these claims.