Revised Green Guides Clean Up Murky Marketing

January 19, 2011

The Federal Trade Commission’s “Green Guides” are nothing new. The first one came out in 1992, went through several revisions and since 1998 has sat stagnant with vague suggestions on environmental marketing. As interest in sustainability picked up over the years, so did the irrelevant claims manufacturers would make about environmental friendliness, like air conditioners labeled with a big green “CFC-Free” sticker. CFCs are banned by law — you don’t get brownie points for not making an illegal product. In October, the FTC released an updated Green Guide that addresses the issue of marketing green energy and carbon offsets for the first time as well as helps define deceptive marketing claims and adds specific language on renewable energy and carbon offset claims. The guide was open to public comment and the final version will be released this year. is excited the FTC is ready to hold other companies to the same standards it uses to certify products, which involve a rigorous life-cycle analysis of the product that ensures all environmental claims are real, specific, measurable, third-party backed, verifiable and transparent. While the Green Guides aren’t binding regulations, they do set the bar in measuring compliance with the FTC Act, which allows the agency to prosecute against “deceptive acts or practices” in marketing and advertising. So what is the future of green product claims going to look like? The revised Green Guides set out some clear Do’s and Don’ts for enviro-marketing, including:

  • DO avoid broad claims
  • DO clarify and qualify all claims
  • DO have competent and reliable scientific evidence
  • DO carefully choose seals and certifications
  • DO ensure claims are clear and limited to a specific benefit
  • DON’T overstate the use of renewable energy
  • DON’T double count renewable energy or carbon offset credits
  • DON’T claim that products are “carbon neutral” without knowing the carbon footprint
  • DON’T use false claims in certification marks and seals of approval