Distributors who supply or market products with a “green” seal need to pay close attention to the newly revised Green Guides released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These guidelines address green claims made product manufacturers. 
The Green Guides include rules regarding the use of certifications and seals of approval. With many cleaning products bearing some type of green mark, this new section of the Guides will undoubtedly impact distributors and other members of the jan/san supply chain. 
The Green Guides indicate that product labels and marketing materials must now distinguish among first-, second- and third-party certifications or seals. 
First-party seals, which are created by a manufacturer, must explain that this is a self-certifying program and benefits have not been verified by an independent outside organization. Second-party seals are those created by an industry association (for example, ISSA) and also need to disclose this information. 
Third-party seals are those from an independent organization, such as Green Seal, UL Environment, GREENGUARD, etc. While these certifications don’t require a qualifying statement about the certifying body, a seal by itself isn’t enough validation. Products in all three categories should still specify which attributes meet the certification; otherwise purchasers will think the certification applies to the entire product, which is incorrect and in violation of the Guides. 
The FTC is giving preference to third-party seals, but is still allowing manufacturers and associations to develop their own certifications. The Guides are designed to make it easy for purchasers to decipher the difference among seals. 
“As long as we’re transparent, we’re good to go,” says Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind. 
Even though the 2012 FTC Green Guides aren’t preventing the use of first- and second-party seals, requiring qualifying language may reduce their quantity, especially first-party seals. Manufacturers may be less inclined to promote their own seals because they will have to prominently display a disclaimer.
“Anytime there is a disclaimer there is less credibility in the marketplace,” says Arthur Weissman, CEO of Green Seal, Washington, D.C. “No consumer is going to give much credence to it and distributors won’t be able to say it matters.”
End users are becoming more educated and better informed consumers. Distributors who are not following the changes to the Green Guides will be undermining their credibility, which could potentially hurt sales, says Ashkin. 
Distributors may not only damage customer relationships by making erroneous claims, but they could also be fined by the FTC. Distributors who promote products with unsubstantiated green claims are just as much to blame as manufacturers and will be treated as such. 
“When the FTC goes after violators, it tends to make them example cases,” says Weissman. “Distributors don’t want to be involved.”
If distributors notice green claims in violation of the FTC on labels, catalogs or marketing materials, they should contact the product manufacturer to try and get substantiated claims. 
“Simply ask the manufacturer to document the claims,” says Ashkin. “As long as they can substantiate it, the distributor is OK.”
If unable to get the needed information, distributors may want to switch vendors to avoid potential trouble.