Given the meteoric increase in the market for green products in virtually every industry, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is increasingly examining eco claims for truthfulness. While browsing online or even down a store aisle shows me “green-washing” is alive and well, some recent settlements between companies and the FTC do demonstrate that companies are gradually being held to a higher level of truth.
One interesting guideline issued by the FTC as part of the commission’s Revised Green Guides is the Overstatement of Environmental Attribute. According to the guideline, “an environmental marketing claim should not overstate, directly or by implication, an environmental attribute or benefit. Marketers should not state or imply environmental benefits if the benefits are negligible.”
While this may seem an obvious guideline, the rule goes beyond technical truth into implied truth. Look at the example the FTC provides on its website:
Example 1: An area rug is labeled “50% more recycled content than before.” The manufacturer increased the recycled content of its rug from 2% recycled fiber to 3%. Although the claim is technically true, it likely conveys the false impression that the manufacturer has increased significantly the use of recycled fiber.
The above example shows that the FTC looks at the implication of a claim. By saying “50% more” the claim implies a large increase, and even though the rug would technically use 50% more recycled content, the claim likely would now be considered green-washing by the FTC.
While the FTC is a long way away from calling out the many, many green-washing claims out there, they are nonetheless slowly cracking down and hopefully giving some unscrupulous marketers cause to reconsider before implying environmental benefits that really don’t exist.