Proposed green marketing guidelines published by the Federal Trade Commission will have many greens seeing red, but for many, the new rules will reinforce a long-standing practice of marketing based on fact. That the FTC is revising some of the original guidelines is perhaps a signal of the increased attention being paid to what individual companies are saying not only about their products, but also how they operate from a sustainability standpoint.
According to a FTC news release, “The revised Guides caution marketers not to make blanket, general claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.”
A few examples of proposed provisions:
- “Free-of” claims generally should not be used if the product or package contains substances that pose the same environmental risks as the substance being advertised as not present.
- “Free-of” claims generally should not be used when the substance not present has never been associated with the product.
- Renewable energy claims should be qualified if less than all or virtually all of the manufacturing process was powered with renewable energy or conventional energy offset by renewable energy certificates.
- At this point it remains to be seen whether the Guide will prohibit any label practices.
This increased attention is not surprising given the growing consumer demand for corporate transparency in the marketplace. Companies need to be prepared to provide evidence of any claims made at being sustainable not only from a product life-cycle perspective, but also from business operations, workplace and community perspectives. In other words, no one will care if your kitchen cleaner is packaged in biodegradable containers if you employ discriminatory hiring practices and routinely dump toxic waste in the nearby river. As product claims come under increased scrutiny, it is likely business operations will, too. Companies need to incorporate sustainability practices not only into the type of business they do, but also into how they do business.