How well are the Federal Trade Commission's Guidelines for Environmental Marketing Claims working in preventing the false or misleading use of advertising terms such as recyclable, degradable and environmentally friendly? Do consumers see "green" claims differently today than they did three years ago? Are there changes in environmental technology that should be taken into account in reviewing the guides?
These are among the questions on which the FTC is seeking public comments for the next 60 days. On Nov. 13 and 14, the FTC will hold a public workshop-conference in Washington, D.C. to discuss the comments. The Commission will review both the written comments and the conference discussion in determining whether to amend the guides.
"When the Commission issued these guides three years ago, they were widely hailed by industry and consumer groups alike and we believe that they have achieved their goals of reducing consumer confusion about green' claims and preventing deceptive environmental claims," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "The FTC recognizes, however, that technology in the environmental area can change dramatically in a short period of time, and so can consumers' understanding and perceptions about what environmental claims mean and their importance. That's why we're once again employing the public workshop-conference. This mechanism has worked extraordinarily well in several other instances to elicit information from a wide range of parties about changes in the marketplace. This kind of forum for new ideas also helps us to ensure that the regulatory tools we use are up to date and properly targeted."
When it announced its Guidelines for Environmental Marketing Claims in July 1992, the FTC said it would review them after three years to see how they were working. The guides outline four general principles for environmental claims: that qualifications and disclosures should be sufficiently clear and prominent to prevent deception; that claims should make clear whether they apply to the product, the package, or just a component of either; that claims should not overstate an environmental attribute or benefit; and that comparative claims should be presented in a manner that makes the basis for comparison clear. The guides also address eight categories of claims: general claims such as "environmentally friendly"; degradable claims, compostable claims, recyclable claims; recycled content claims; source reduction claims; refillable claims; and ozone-safe/ozone-friendly claims. In a notice seeking comment on the guides, the Commission said that, since the guides were issued, it has some data to suggest that marketers are qualifying certain types of claims, such as recycled-content claims, more fre-quently, and that certain deceptive environmental claims that were of concern at the time the guides were adopted have become less prevalent. The data, which cover supermarket products, also suggest that the total number of environmental claims has not diminished since the guides were announced.
The notice, to be published in the Federal Register shortly, also lists a number of questions on which the Commission seeks public comment, including the general questions listed above. The FTC also is seeking comment on specific issues, including the use of industry resin identification codes on certain plastic products, claims regarding products made from reconditioned parts, and whether claims about recyclability and compostability convey deceptive claims about the local availability of recycling or composting facilities.
Comments on the guides will be placed on the public record and on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site. They are due Sept. 29, and should be identified as "16 CFR Part 260 -- Comment," and addressed to Secretary, FTC, Room H-159, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. Requests to participate in the public workshop-conference must be sent by Aug. 30 to Kevin Bank, Division of Advertising Practices, at the same address.
The Commission vote to announce the guides for public comment was 5-0.
Copies of today's Federal Register notice and the Environmental Marketing Guidelines 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's NewsPhone at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other documents also are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web site at http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. P954501)