The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued revised "Green Guides." These guides are designed to help companies and marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive, say ISSA reports.

Originally issued in 1992, the revised FTC Green Guides include:
• General principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims, and how companies can substantiate such claims;
• How consumers (household and commercial) are likely to interpret various specific environmental claims; and
• How companies can qualify their claims to avoid deceiving prospective customers.

It should be noted that the Green Guides are not agency rules or regulations. Rather, they describe the types of environmental claims the FTC may or may not find deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act. Under Section 5, the agency can take enforcement action against deceptive claims, which ultimately can lead to Commission orders prohibiting deceptive advertising and marketing and fines if those orders are later violated.

Revisions to Previous Guidance
Among other modifications, the revised Green Guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is "environmentally friendly" or "eco-friendly" because the FTC's consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.

The Guides also:
• Advise companies not to make an unqualified degradable claim for a solid waste product unless they can prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year after customary disposal;
• Caution that items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so marketers should not make unqualified degradable claims for these items; and
• Clarify guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable, recycled content, and source reduction claims.

New Sections
The Guides contain new sections on:
1) certifications and seals of approval
2) carbon offsets
3) free-of claims
4) non-toxic claims
5) made with renewable energy claims
6) made with renewable materials claims

The new section on certifications and seals of approval, for example, emphasizes that certifications and seals may be considered endorsements that are covered by the FTC's Endorsement Guides, and includes examples that illustrate how marketers could disclose a "material connection" that might affect the weight or credibility of an endorsement. In addition, the Guides caution marketers not to use environmental certifications or seals that don't clearly convey the basis for the certification, because such seals or certifications are likely to convey general environmental benefits.

Finally, either because the FTC lacks a sufficient basis to provide meaningful guidance or wants to avoid proposing guidance that duplicates or contradicts rules or guidance of other agencies, the Guides do not address use of the terms "sustainable," "natural," and "organic." Organic claims made for textiles and other products derived from agricultural products are covered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Program.

The complete text of the revised Green Guides is posted here.