For many people, environmental considerations play an important role in what they put in their shopping carts. But it's tough to know when green claims are credible. Seals and certifications can be a useful tool to help shoppers decide where to place their trust and how to spend their money — but only if they're backed by solid proof.
The FTC’s proposed settlement with Tested Green, Nonprofit Management LLC, and Jeremy Ryan Claeys demonstrates the importance of ensuring that claims conveyed to consumers through seals and certifications are supported by sound science. According to the FTC, the company and Claeys advertised and sold a Tested Green certification, touted as “the nation’s leading certification program for businesses that produce green products or use green processes in the manufacture of goods and services.” The company’s website hyped the program as “the nation’s leading certification for green businesses with over 45,000 certifications in the United States.”
Tested Green said that to qualify for the "Rapid” certification, companies had to “answer a series of questions about the green activities your business participates in.” To qualify for the “Pro” Certification, companies had to supply the same documentation, but Tested Green required more: a possible site visit “to verify the green practices are legitimate and meet universal green standards.”
Despite those claims, the FTC says that no applicant was required to answer a series of questions about their business’ green activities, and no applicant for the Pro certification was ever subject to a site visit as a condition of certification. According to the FTC, the only “green” activity the company insisted on was ponying up $189.95 for the Rapid certification or $549.95 for the Pro version. The FTC charged that as soon as businesses paid the fee, Tested Green sent them the logo and a “certification verification page” they could use to advertise their Tested Green certified status.
But problems with the Tested Green program didn’t end there. Tested Green claimed that its program was endorsed by the National Green Business Association and the National Association of Government Contractors. Independent industry groups? Not so. According to the FTC, they were businesses owned and operated by respondent Claeys.
The FTC’s complaint alleged that Tested Green’s certifications conveyed the false claim that the products or services bearing the certification had been independently and objectively evaluated based on their environmental attributes or benefits. Additionally, by furnishing businesses with the certification and the tools to advertise it, Tested Green provided them with what they needed for the commission of deceptive acts and practices – the “means and instrumentalities,” in legal parlance – which is itself a deceptive act in violation of Section 5.
The FTC also charged that Tested Green’s use of “endorsements” from the National Green Business Association and the National Association of Government Contractors was false and misleading since they owned and operated the groups. The failure to disclose the relationship between the two groups and Tested Green was a deceptive practice, too.