U.S. Federal Trade Commission Green Guides: An Opportunity for Green Marketing Input
December 19, 2022
Responsible Environmental Marketing
Many companies employ “green” marketing strategies that highlight the environmental benefits of their products and practices. To help marketers avoid making environmental claims that mislead consumers, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) established and maintains the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, otherwise known as the Green Guides. This guidance includes general principles that apply to all environmental marketing, including:
- how the public is likely to interpret particular claims
- how marketers can substantiate them,
- how to qualify claims to avoid deceiving consumers.
It also includes examples illustrating how to comply with each topic covered.
Green Guides Revision and Enforcement
On December 14th, the FTC announced the opening of a 60-day public comment period ahead of their consideration of updates to the Green Guides. The Guides are typically revised every ten years in response to product innovation and new trends in the green marketing space, and the revisions are intended to make the Green Guides easier for companies to use and understand.
While the Green Guides themselves are not law, they can still serve as evidence of a violation of federal and state false advertising and consumer protection laws. Indeed, some states like California incorporate them into their state statutes as well, making them particularly important. The FTC can also take enforcement action against companies that make false or misleading claims in their environmental marketing (for instance, a recent case surrounding misleading environmental marketing claims led to multimillion dollar settlements from two large companies).
Our POV: This comment period presents an opportunity for businesses that engage in green marketing to submit input around whether any new product designs or uses of materials warrant a change to the guidance provided in the Green Guides.
The Green Guides cover many topics of environmental claims that marketers might make, including:
- General Environmental Benefit Claims
- Carbon Offsets
- Certifications and Seals of Approval
- Compostable Claims
- Degradable Claims
- Free-Of Claims
- Non-Toxic Claims
- Ozone-Safe and Ozone-Friendly Claims
- Recyclable Claims
- Recycled Content Claims
- Refillable Claims
- Renewable Energy Claims
- Renewable Materials Claims
In light of increased focus on ESG issues over the past ten years, the FTC has indicated that some particular areas of focus during the revision process will include claims around climate, carbon offsets, biodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled content, organic, energy use/energy efficiency, ozone-safe/ozone-friendly, and sustainable.
Our POV: To assess possible next steps, companies should audit any of their products or processes (especially anything new from the past 10 years) and determine if marketing claims connected to those products align with what is recommended under the Green Guides.
If companies believe any elements of the guides need to be changed or evolved, this 60-day comment period is an opportunity to provide that input and help craft Green Guides that are reflective of any changing business or marketing trends.
Comments may be submitted online at https://www.regulations.gov/ by writing “Green Guides Review (16 CFR part 260) (Matter No. P952501)” on your comment and following the instructions on the web-based form.