New “Green” Regulations

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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently issued new proposed regulations suggesting several revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (“Green Guides”) aimed at providing clear guidance to companies marketing its products as “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly.”  The current Guide has been under review since 2007, when the FTC sought public comments on the Guides’ effectiveness, held public workshops discussing emerging green marketing issues, and conducted research on consumer perception of environmental claims.  The revisions are intended to protect consumers by preventing deceptive and misleading advertising regarding environmental safety.

According to an article in the New York Times, the FTC decided to revise these guidelines due, in part, to a consumer marketing study which showed that consumers are often confused about what companies’ representations about “green” mean.  For example, the article stated that “[w]hen presented with claims about a supposedly “green” product, most people thought it was recyclable, biodegradable, made from recycled materials or made with renewable materials. Nearly half thought the marketing meant the product was nontoxic, compostable or made with renewable energy, the study found. ”

Under the new regulations, companies would not be permitted to make general statements regarding the environmental benefits of their products.  Specifically, the regulations caution companies not to make “unqualified general environmental benefit claims” – such as calling products “green,” and similar claims such as compostable, degradable, and recyclable.  The regulations also provide guidance about issues not addresses in the prior Guides, relating to renewable materials, renewable energy, and carbon off-sets.  Additionally, the regulations  caution companies not to use unqualified certifications or seals of approval and if they are used, that such certifications or seals should be specific and clear.

The last revision of these regulations was done in 1998.  A copy of the newly proposed regulations, which are currently available for public comment, can be found here.