FTC Proposes Green Guideline Amendments

02 December 2010 Publication
Author(s): Carrie Hoffman

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently proposed revisions to its "Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims" (Green Guides), which were first issued in 1982. The Green Guides contain general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims and guidelines that can help marketers substantiate and qualify these claims to avoid deceiving customers. According to the FTC, the proposed changes are designed to update the Green Guides and make them easier to understand and use. The deadline to file comments on the proposed changes to the Green Guides is December 10, 2010.

The proposed revisions include restricting non-qualified general environment benefit claims such as "eco-friendly" or "green." Environmental benefit claims can be made if qualified, limited to the specific benefit conveyed by the product and such qualifications are clear and prominent.

FTC also is proposing adding a new section to the Green Guides that addresses environmental certifications and seals of approval in advertising. The certifications or seals of approval are deemed endorsements regulated by the FTC's Endorsement Guides. The use of certifications and/or seals of approval must meet the FTC's criteria for endorsements, including disclosure of material connections and substantiation. Furthermore, use of certifications or seals should clearly communicate any material limitations of the certification or seal of approval.

In addition, the proposed revisions address specific environmental claims such as "degradable," "compostable," "renewable," or "free of" a particular substance. For example, if a marketer claims that a product is "degradable" the revisions state it should decompose in a reasonably short period of time but no more than one year. "Free of" claims generally should not be used if the product or package contains substances that pose the same environmental risk as the substance it advertises is not present or where the substance has never been associated with the product. With respect to "renewable energy," claims should not be made if the product or any part thereof was manufactured using fossil fuels and should be qualified to the specific source of renewable energy. Claims that a product has "renewable" materials should not be made unless the product or package is made entirely with renewable materials. Any claims for carbon offset must be backed by competent and reliable scientific evidence including appropriate accounting methods for the carbon offsets or as required by law.

The FTC has posted on its website at http://www.ftc.gov a more detailed summary of the proposed revisions to the Green Guides. Interested parties can submit comments in paper form by following the instructions in the "Request for Comment" section of the Federal Register notice. Comments regarding the Revised Green Guides may also be submitted electronically.

While the comment period is open until December 10, 2010, advertisers should consider shaping their environmental claims to comply with the proposed amendments, as it is unlikely that the final Green Guides will change substantially from the proposed revisions.

If you have any questions about the proposed revisions to the Green Guides, please contact Gardere's Retail Team.