Wal-Mart Weighs In On Packaging At FTC ‘Green Guides’ Workshop

by | May 1, 2008

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livebetter1.jpgReducing the weight of Honest Kids organic juice drink pouch bulk packs sold at Wal-Mart is one of the success stories highlighted at the April 30 Federal Trade Commission “Eco in the Marketplace” public workshop on product packaging claims.

Amy Zettlemoyer-Lazar of Wal-Mart’s Sustainable Packaging Value Network and Sam’s Club Packaging explained how they reduced the Honest Kids packaging weight from 13.6 grams to 8 grams but pointed out that the quality of the product is just as key.

“The great thing about us stating our goals publicly is that our suppliers and our packaging suppliers are bringing us better items and better packaging,” Zettlemoyer-Lazar said. “The challenge is how to make consistently better decisions.”

The day-long Washington, D.C. workshop was the second in a series orchestrated by the FTC as the agency spearheads the regulatory review of its environmental marketing standards. The first workshop, held January 8 and focusing on the carbon market and renewable energy claims, generated more than 70 public comments submitted by trade associations, corporations and other stakeholders.

“While the advertising trade associations have asked the FTC to slow its review process, virtually every speaker at today’s workshop acknowledged it is time to update the ‘Green Guides,'” said Valerie Davis, president of Green Canary Sustainability Consulting.

FTC Chairman William E. Kovacic spoke passionately about the agency’s historic focus on “state-of-the-art” consumer protection issues – noting the need for updated environmental marketing standards in today’s world is no exception.

The FTC has been “observing dynamic commercial responses” from consumers and businesses alike, and companies that “don’t get it right will pollute the marketplace,” said Kovacic.

According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s Michelle Harvey, vague environmental claims are one of the most pervasive areas in need of attention.

“That’s the area that’s most confounding,” said Harvey, who is based in Bentonville, Arkansas, and consults with Wal-Mart buyers on how to scrutinize packaging claims of the mega-chain’s vendors.

Harvey points to businesses who want to tout that they’re “a little bit better” because of the way they package products as an area that needs to be clarified in the Green Guides.

“There are bad actors, no question,” she said. “The majority are good, but they don’t know how” to go about making environmental claims on packaging.

David Mallen of the National Advertising Division of the Council of the Better Business Bureau spearheads a program that allows for voluntary self-regulation of advertising claims. He pointed out that cases that come through his office are initiated by competitors, and that claims of “we’re number one” are being rivaled by green claims.

John Kalkowski of Packaging Digest said packaging needs, like portability and shelf life, don’t always reconcile with today’s environmental trends – like claims on packaging that a company is 100 percent wind-powered.

“This makes me wonder how that message gets carried through,” said Kalkowski.

“Right now, the emphasis is on the packaging itself,” he added, “but I think the next phase will emphasize the process being used to make the packaging.”

The FTC’s public comment period for packaging issues is open through May 19. Submit a comment here.

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