Recent articles show that “natural” and “environmentally friendly” messages resonate with consumers, as thousands of new products introduced in 2008 rely on those attributes in both product and packaging marketing to help boost sales.
With the proliferation of this message, many marketers skate dangerously close to what might be considered misleading or even false advertising. One study done by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing finds that 99 percent of 1,018 “green” advertising claims for everyday consumer products could be misleading.
The industry needs an up-to-date set of guidelines on what are acceptable marketing practices, taking into account new packaging materials, new technology and the changing perceptions of today's consumers. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is charged with protecting the American public from misleading environmental marketing messages has established its interpretation as to what are deceptive environmental marketing claims in a document known as the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims or “Green Guides.”
The Guides originally were published in 1992 and were updated in 1998. To its credit, the FTC launched a new review in 2007 and held three workshops in 2008 to solicit public input on what should be included in a revised set of guidelines. However, new Green Guides have not been issued. At this point, the FTC says it wants any new guidelines to be “done right,” but the agency does not have a target date for release. The commission's staff must prepare recommendations to the five commissioners who make the ultimate decision. When the new guidelines are written, they likely will be subject to a final round of public comment before a final decision is made. The new federal administration also may want to put its own stamp on the direction any changes might take.
A sustainability study done late in 2008 by Packaging Digest and the Sustainable Packaging Coalition, shows that 77 percent of the respondents feel minimum standards should be set before packagers can market themselves as “green.” When asked who should set the standards for sustainability claims, 42 percent said they believe the federal government should do so, followed closely by either a third-party program or trade associations.
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.
For more information, visit http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm.