It’s hard not to walk down the aisles of grocery stores, discount retailers and hardware stores without noticing products making environmental claims. Understanding what labels claiming “recyclable,” “made with renewable energy,” “recyclable,” or “carbon free” really means will be easier thanks to a new proposed Federal Trade Commission (FTC) green guide.
The new FTC green guide was developed in an effort to curb “green washing” and reduce consumer confusion. The new green guide requires companies to provide information that supports environmental claims made on marketing materials, packaging and advertisements. Companies will no longer be able to claim a product as “compostable” or “recyclable” without providing details to support the claim. Companies will also have to clarify how a product is recyclable or compostable. Products claiming to be compostable should break down in a home compost pile in the same time that products like leaves, grass and food products require for composting. Products claiming to be non-toxic or free-of toxics must clarify the claims made by providing proof that the ingredients do not pose an environmental or health risk.
The new FTC green guide also tackles a couple new areas. Companies that claim a product is made with renewable materials will be required to state what the material is, how it is sourced and why the material is renewable. For products claiming to be made with renewable energy, manufacturers need to qualify products were made with wind or solar energy and no power derived from fossil fuels was used to make the product. The new green guide also requires companies to clarify when energy use was offset by renewable energy certificates. Carbon offsets are also an area the FTC is requiring evidence to support claims made by companies on product packaging and marketing materials.
Concerns or comments about the proposed green guide changes can submit them to the FTC. Comments are accepted through December 10, 2010.
Additional Resources for Understanding What Green Advertising Claims Mean
There are a number of resources to turn to gain a greater understanding of what the environmental claims featured on products mean. The FTC provides a consumer brochure entitled “Understanding Green Advertising Claims.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website also has tools to help consumers make green purchases.
Products that have gone through the rigorous process of Cradle to Cradle Certification rank as some of the more eco-friendly products. Green Seal (greenseal.org) certifies a variety of products ranging from writing utensils to cleaning materials. To check on your favorite brand, visit Climate Counts (climatecounts.org). This website provides environmental ratings for companies based upon a 0-100 point scale.
FTC New Green Guide Proposals http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/10/greenguide.shtm
Green Advertising Claims http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/general/gen02.shtm