For a substantial segment of the buying public, environmental claims are highly material. That’s why green consumers see red when companies use misleading representations to pitch their products and services. To protect consumers from deception in the marketplace – and to protect honest businesses from shady claims by competitors – the FTC has taken law enforcement action against false or unsubstantiated environmental promises. For companies that want to keep their green claims true blue, the agency’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims offer information on how consumers likely understand common representations. The FTC is taking a fresh look at the Green Guides and is asking for your feedback.
Issued in 1992 and revised in 1996, 1998, and 2012, the Green Guides reflect a mix of the legal and the practical. They’re not stand-alone federal regulations. Rather, they explain the FTC’s thinking about how the FTC Act’s prohibition on unfair or deceptive practices applies to the kind of environmental claims consumers are likely to encounter in the marketplace. The Guides also include dozens of hypotheticals that address the real-world situations companies face when trying to craft green claims.
The FTC’s general practice is to review its rules and guides at least once every ten years. Is there still a need for them? Have consumers’ perceptions changed? Are there modifications that should be made to increase the benefit to consumers? What about the impact on businesses, including small businesses? The Federal Register Notice opens with 19 questions about how the Green Guides are currently operating in the marketplace.
The FTC also is asking for your perspectives on the use of certain terms in advertising, labeling, and packaging. Claims like “recyclable,” “recycled content” “compostable,” “degradable,” and “ozone-safe/ozone-friendly” are covered in the current Green Guides, but should we take another look at what consumers understand those words to mean?
In addition, the Federal Register Notice invites your insights into representations about carbon offsets and climate change. Is there evidence of misleading climate change-related claims in the marketplace? Should the FTC provide guidance to help advertisers avoid deception? What about energy use and energy efficiency? Should we consider adding guidance on energy-related claims for items for the home or other products?
And what about “organic” and “sustainable” claims? As the Federal Register Notice discusses, in 2012 the FTC declined to issue guidance on “organic” claims for non-agricultural products and determined it didn’t have enough evidence about consumer perception to offer guidance about “sustainable” claims. Should we revisit those determinations?
We welcome your feedback. You have until February 21, 2023, to file public comments.
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