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Go green: FTC releases proposed Green Guides that offer new directions to marketers

Linda Casey

January 29, 2014

3 Min Read
Go green: FTC releases proposed Green Guides that offer new directions to marketers

There’s a new tool to help marketers avoid making unfair or deceptive claims on their packaging. The proposed Green Guides, were released by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on Oct. 6, and can be found online at www.ftc.gov/os/fedreg/2010/october/101006greenguidesfrn.pdf

First issued by the FTC in 1992, The Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly known as the Green Guides, outlines general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims and then provides guidance on specific green claims.

The FTC is accepting input on the proposed changes until Dec. 10.  The guidelines may adjusted based on any comments before they are enacted by the FTC’s board of governors. Comment may submitted at www.ftc.gov

The agency updated the document in 1996 and 1998, and it now provides guidance on usage for specific eco-conscious terms, such as biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled content, and ozone safe. The Green Guides had gone through two prior revisions—once in 1996 and another 1998—before the latest proposed revision.

Questionable claims increasing
Why is the FTC reviewing this document a third time? The FTC cites the proliferation of green claims in the marketplace. For example, the FTC took action against companies marketing rayon fabrics and textiles as being made of bamboo in an environmentally friendly way when these products were not. To read Packaging Digest’s coverage about these actions, visit www.packagingdigest.com/article/447493-FTC_warns_about_rayon_textiles_marked_as_bamboo.php.

The FTC began the latest review in November 2007, more than a year earlier than it originally planned, as part of its regulatory review program. Through its regulatory review program, the FTC periodically reviews its rules and guides to examine their efficacy, costs and benefits, and to determine whether they should be retained or modified.

As part of the Green Guides’ review, the FTC has held a series of public meetings to discuss various green marketing issues. The FTC held its first workshop in January 2008, focusing on the marketing of carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates (RECs). Carbon offsets fund projects designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place to counterbalance or “offset” emissions elsewhere. RECs are created when renewable power generators sell their electricity as conventional electricity, and then sell the environmental attributes separately through a certificate.

The second workshop, held in April 2008, examined developments in green packaging claims and the consumer perception of such claims. The workshop focused on the range of claims marketers use to tout that their product packaging is “green,” such as recyclability, biodegradation, composting and sustainability.  Workshop presenters, including Packaging Digest’s editorial director, John Kalkowski, discussed:

1) Trends in packaging and the resulting environmental packaging claims;
2) Whether consumer perception of the specific packaging terms currently covered by the Green Guides has changed over the past decade;
3) Green packaging terms not addressed in the current Green Guides;
4) Consumer perception of claims based on third-party certification;
 5) The impact of scientific and technological changes, including the use of new packaging materials and their impact on the environment;
6) The current state of substantiation for green packaging claims; and
7) The need for new or updated FTC guidance.
 
The Commission’s third workshop was held in July 2008, to examine green claims about textiles, building products and buildings.

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