Changing Horizons: FTC's Updated Green Guides Alter The Eco Marketing Landscape
To facilitate this process, the FTC began publishing Green Guides in 1992, with the latest updates released last month. The updates incorporate information gathered in workshops, a study of how consumers perceive and understand environmental claims, and more than 300 comments on the proposed updates. New sections were also added to address concepts not previously captured—and, in some cases, conceived of!
What's Different In The Update?
At 36 pages in length, the Guides For The Use Of Environmental Marketing Claims is certainly detailed, but its overall direction can be summarized as follows:
"Unqualified general environmental benefit claims are difficult to interpret and likely convey a wide range of meanings," the guidance states. "Because it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate all reasonable interpretations of these claims, marketers should not make unqualified general environmental benefit claims." The Guides recommend against using terms such as "environmentally friendly," "eco-friendly" or "Earth smart" because these claims are vague and difficult to substantiate.
If you think those recommendations are restrictive, check out Jacquelyn Ottman's interpretation of the updated Guides in her latest Huffington Post column. She writes, "There's no such thing as a green product. Every product uses resources and energy and creates waste."
If there truly are no green products, then what are business owners to do if they have a line—or an entire company—dedicated to serving customers who want environmentally conscious merchandise? It comes down to being able to back up the claims you make.
Take "biodegradable" for example. Unless you can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year of disposal, products cannot be promoted as degradable. Similarly, products that are recycled that cannot be demonstrated to fully degrade within a year should not be marketed as degradable. Sounds simple, but the standard makes a distinction between "qualified" and "unqualified" claims. There is debate on the subject, as the Plastics Environmental Council has taken issue with the methodology for evaluating biodegradability and the definition of "qualified" claims (see this article from Environmental Leader for the specifics), so there will likely be more discussion to come.