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National Regulation

FTC Warns Marketers About Too-Broad Claims of Eco-Friendliness

Releases Revised 'Green' Guidelines on Ensuring Claims are Truthful, Supported 10/01/2012 9:19 AM Eastern

The Federal Trade Commission issued revised "Green Guides" guidelines on Monday, updating its advisory to marketers pitching so-called "green" products.

Among the changes are cautions against making too broad claims that a product is "environmentally friendly" or "ecofriendly." That is because FTC studies have shown that consumers believe such claims indicate "far-reaching environmental benefits" that few products can deliver on, making such claims "nearly impossible to substantiate." Unsubstantiated claims are within the FCC's false and deceptive advertising ambit.

The guides also advise against unqualified claims for degradable products unless the entire product breaks down and "returns to nature" within a year; caution that no such claims should be made for anything headed for a  landfill, incinerator or recycling center because they can't meet the one-year deadline; and "clarify" any claims about composting, ozone impact or recycling in general.

Among other clarifications are that seals of approval and certifications can be considered endorsements covered by rules that require disclosure of any material connection between the marketer and the endorser.

The guides to not take a position on claims of "sustainable," "natural," and "organic," either because the FTC lacks a basis for guidance, the commission said, or as in the case of "organic," because it is already covered by the USDA.

The guides provide general principles that apply to environmental marketing claims, how consumers are likely to view the claims and marketers can substantiate them, and how the claims should be qualified to avoid deception.

To check out the new guidelines, including what the FTC would consider overhyping a product deceiving consumers about benefits, go here.

September