FTC close to issuing new ‘Green Guides'
John Kalkowski -- Packaging Digest, 9/1/2010 3:03:00 PM
It has been 12 years since the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued its last set of "Green Guidelines," which the federal agency uses to guide enforcement of existing laws covering how companies can make claims regarding the environmental friendliness of their products.
Now, after nearly three years of public input, it appears the agency is on the verge of releasing a revised set of guidelines, perhaps during the month of September, according to a recent article in Advertising Age magazine. Mitch Katz, senior public affairs specialist, says the FTC has informally told people the agency expects to issue the guidelines by yearend, but he wouldn't speculate on an exact release date.
The FTC is revamping the rules to be more representative of the current green market and the language that producers, retailers and consumers are using.
Recent articles show that "natural" and "environmentally friendly" messages resonate with consumers, as thousands of new products rely on these attributes in both product and packaging marketing to help boost sales. Katz says he expects the revamped protocols to provide guidance and clarity on new sustainability terms that weren't even used when the original guidelines were put in place.
Better definitions sought
It appears the industry wants stringent guidelines that remove ambiguities. This is important because local and state jurisdictions increasingly rely on the Green Guides for direction on enforcement, even though the FTC does not pre-empt regulation of environmental claims by individual states.
Only 45 complaints have been brought under the guides since their inception. FTC Director David Vladeck has been quoted as saying that tougher enforcement and guidelines are a major part of the Commission's agenda.
Many marketers skate dangerously close to what might be considered misleading or even false advertising. A study done by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing finds that 99 percent of 1,018 "green" advertising claims for consumer products could be misleading.
Last year, the FTC told Packaging Digest that it wants any new guidelines to be "done right." After the series of public workshops, the commission's staff was charged with preparing prepare recommendations to the five commissioners who make the ultimate decision. When the new guidelines are published, they likely will be subject to a final round of public comment before a final decision is made.
The new set of Green Guides could impact the marketing message of many companies who use sustainability to tout the value of their products.
Advertising Age quotes Christopher Cole, an advertising-law specialist with law firm Manatt Phelps & Phillips in Washington, as saying the guides could render many of the more than 300 environmental seals of approval and certifications now used on packaging and products largely useless and possibly in violation of FTC standards. They could also influence efforts by retailers such as Walmart to institute a sustainability-rating system for products.
New guidelines may tighten standards
The guides are expected to tighten standards for packaging claims such as "recyclable" or "biodegradable." Advertising Age also says the guides may attempt to define such legally and linguistically vague terms as "sustainability" or tackle the central issue of many "greenwashing" controversies-trying to define how far companies can go in protraying themselves as "green" in advertising when they or their products also have detrimental environmental impacts.
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