End users lean on distributors for product information all the time, and assistance with “green” products is no exception. If customers have questions or problems with environmental accuracy, they are more likely to take the issue up with their distributors rather than seek out product manufacturers. Distributors, and especially their sales teams, need to be educated about the 2012 FTC Green Guide revisions to avoid making misleading claims. 
“Like retailers, distributors are responsible for any environmental claims they make, even if they are only repeating claims made by the manufacturers of the products they carry,” says Dr. Angela Griffiths, director of research and service delivery at UL Environment, Marietta, Ga.
The best protection against violations is educating distributors and their staff about the numerous changes and modifications within the 2012 FTC Green Guides.

Here are some important changes that distributors need to know: 

General Environmental Benefits: If using broad terms such as “green” or “environmentally friendly” there needs to be specific claims qualifying it. 

Certifications: Seals of approval and certifications will need to specify if they are from a manufacturer or industry association. If environmental benefits are unclear from the seal, claims will need to be substantiated. 

Compostable: All materials in the product or package must break down in the same time as the materials it will be composted with. Also, composting facilities must be available to a majority of consumers. 

Degradable: The entire product or package must completely break down and return to nature within one year. 

Recyclable: Recycling facilities need to be available to at least 60 percent of communities where the product is sold, otherwise qualify that the product may not be recyclable in that area. 

Recycled Content: Claims must specify what percentage of the product or packaging is made from recycled content.

Renewable Energy: Claims must specify what percentage of the manufacturing process is powered with renewable energy if less than 100 percent. It’s also recommended to prominently specify the type of renewable energy used. 

Non-Toxic: If claiming a product is non-toxic, there needs to be reliable scientific evidence that the product is both safe for people and the environment. 

Free-Of: If claiming a product is free-of a harmful ingredient, there can’t be another substance that poses a similar risk. In addition, it’s deceptive to say its free-of an ingredient that is not associated with that type of product.

Whether a salesperson is simply passing along a manufacturer’s marketing brochure or developing his own sales presentation, the information shared with customers can’t violate the 2012 FTC Green Guides, or even be interpreted as misleading by the customer. 

“The definition of a misleading claim is when it’s either intentional or inadvertent,” says Steve Ashkin, president of The Ashkin Group, Bloomington, Ind.