US Federal Trade Commission Proposes Update To "Green Guides"


FTC Green Guides logo. Image credit:Federal Trade Commission.

The long overdue FTC updated guidance - the "Green Guides - on what is appropriate for those making 'environmental product claims' is by no means a stretch change from the old guidance. The Commission's Proposed Revisions To Green Guides sidestepped the questions of what it means to have a product that is "natural" or "sustainable." Mr. Natural gets to keep on truckin.' On the other hand, the FTC's Draft Guidance revisions do cover important new ground. Green claims will never be the same.

As reported to me by the press agency, Greentarget, Chris Cole, partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, sees the following changes to the guidelines as most crucial for companies to know about:The FTC's newly issued draft guideline:


  • proposes barring the use of broad or general "green" or "eco-friendly" type claims unless carefully qualified to explain the precise basis for making the claim.

  • will require companies who place environmental seals or certifications on their products to disclose what the seal means, whether they self-certified (i.e., created the seal themselves) or got it because they are a member of the trade group that created the seal.

  • will significantly limit claims of biodegradability and compostability, as it has found that most waste does not biodegrade when thrown away in landfills.

  • is making it tougher to claim products contain or are made with "recycled content"

  • has issued recommendations regarding companies seeking to claim their products come from "renewable sources" or are made with "renewable energy," requiring better proof and disclosure to consumers of what the claims are based on.

  • is declining to wade into a few areas, such as use of the terms "organic," "natural" or "sustainable," finding those terms either to be regulated by other agencies or not susceptible to a single definition in the eyes of consumers.

Here's what I said about the much anticipated updates back in August, in the post Updated Federal Trade Commission Guidelines May Nullify 100s of Existing Green Labels, Product Claims

Some Background: The pioneering green labels were often directly or indirectly government sponsored (I call the upshot eco-nationalism), lack technical and administrative transparency, and are far too expensive for small businesses and designers. This favors big business of course.

Many of the early efforts at green labeling utilized life cycle inventory data that were inapplicable to actual countries of product origin (European-based Boustead data are commonly adjusted for use with US or Asian products for example) and green claim registries commonly include product models that have not been sold in many years.

Products currently marketed as green typically still do not reflect carbon footprint in any way shape or form, making the early and contemporary registries almost useless to compare to those which will be issued in the future.

If and when the EPA's proposed rule on reporting carbon emissions from stationary sources becomes final, the true carbon intensity of certain manufacturing practices can be known with precision. At that point, LCA studies done from generic data set interpolations will be out of date, but only those firms which would benefit from the newly available precise metrics will be making it known to their markets!

All 220+ pages of the Federal Register notice of the revisions can be downloaded here as a pdf file.

New York Times adds some great context to the overall development of improved green guides in: Agency Seeks to Tighten Rules for 'Green' Labeling
Earlier posts on the FTC.
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