FTC Updates the "Green Guides"

Changes Keep Pace with Evolving Consumer Perceptions, and New Environmental Claims New Guidance on Recyclable Claims to Await Study Results

For Release

The Federal Trade Commission today announced a “new and improved” version of one of its most popular products, its Environmental Marketing Guides. The updated guides reflect changing consumer perceptions about what various environmental claims mean and the emergence of new claims since these FTC guides first were announced in July 1992. Additional guidance now is provided on the use of environmental seal-of-approval logos and the chasing arrows symbol, as well as for such marketing claims as "environmentally preferable," "non- toxic," and "chlorine free." The guides retain the section on general advertising principles, and continue to address specific categories of environmental benefit claims, such as degradable, recycled content and ozone friendly. Minor changes also have been made in a few instances for purposes of clarification.

The FTC said that it is awaiting the results of ongoing consumer research before it deter mines whether to modify the guides as to claims that products are "recyclable" or "compostable." The Commission also is seeking public comment on whether consumers perceive the recondi tioning and/or reuse of product parts to be recycling. Comments and survey data in response to this request are due Nov. 25, 1996.

The revised guides are effective immediately, and the 1992 guides on recyclable and compostable claims continue to remain in effect unless subsequently amended.

"The Commission is gratified that the guides received such broad public support during this review process," said Bureau of Consumer Protection Director Jodie Bernstein. "Because of that support, only those changes necessary to further protect consumers from misleading claims and to provide guidance to manufacturers on how to advertise truthfully the environmental benefits of their products were made."

In addition to receiving written comments, the Commission held a two-day public workshop-conference so that all interested parties could present their views directly. State and federal government representatives, environmental groups, industry groups, academics and individuals participated in the conference. This forum afforded participants an opportunity to debate the issues and helped shape the Commission’s decision-making process.

Among the additions to the guides are the following:

  • in the section on general environmental benefit claims, examples regarding the use of environmental seals-of-approval and “environmentally preferable” claims. The guides advise that, unless an advertiser can substantiate the broad meaning conveyed by these seals and claims that the product is generally environmentally superior to others, they should be accompanied by qualifying language limiting the superiority claim;
  • in the general claims section, an example regarding the use of "essentially non-toxic" or "practically non-toxic" claims. The revised guides advise that these claims are likely to be interpreted by consumers on products like pesticides to mean that the product does not pose any risk to humans or the environment. Thus, these claims should not be used for such products if they pose a significant risk to either;
  • in the recycled content claims guide, an example regarding the use of the three chasing arrows symbol. The guides state that this symbol, by itself, could convey that the item is recyclable or that it is made entirely from recycled material, or both -- the guides advise disclosing which is the case (unless the item is both recyclable and made entirely from recycled material) and add that the advertising should also disclose, if appropriate (1) the limited availability of recycling programs for the advertised product and (2) the percentage of recycled content in the advertised product;
  • in the general principles section, an example regarding a claim that paper coffee filters are made with a "chlorine-free" bleaching process. The revised guides advise that this claim may overstate the environmental benefits of the filters, if the process used still releases into the environment a significant, even if reduced, amount of the same harmful byproducts as chlorine bleaching; and
  • in the section on ozone safe claims, an example regarding the deceptive use of the phrase “ozone friendly” in marketing products that contain volatile organic compounds, which may cause smog by contributing to ground-level ozone formation (because “ozone friendly” is likely to convey to consumers that the product is safe for the atmosphere as a whole).

The Commission vote to announce the revised guides was 5-0. They will be published in the Federal Register shortly.

Public comments on whether reconditioned and/or reused parts should be called recycled and additional survey data on recyclable and compostable claims are due by Nov. 25, and should be sent to the Secretary, FTC, Room 159-H, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. Comments should be identified “16 CFR Part 260 -- Comment” and submitted on computer disk so that they can be placed on the FTC’s Web site.

Copies of the notice to be published in the Federal Register announcing the revised guides are available from the FTC’s Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov

(FTC Matter No. P954501)

Contact Information

Media Contact:

Bonnie Jansen or Victoria Streitfeld
Office of Public Affairs
202-326-2161 or 202-326-2718

Staff Contact:

Bureau of Consumer Protection
Lee Peeler, 202-326-3090
Kevin Bank, 202-326-2675
Michael Dershowitz, 202-326-3158