FTC’s Green Guides Could Nullify Environmental Seals of Approval

by | Aug 24, 2010

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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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