The Green Police Regulate Product Sustainability Claims

By Scott Kriner, Green Metal Consulting

As sustainable (or "green") products continue to grow in popularity, the claims  by marketers of those products often go a little too far in their boasting of the sustainability of the product. In an attempt to somewhat regulate the green claims being made, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) created a Green Guides document  in 1992. The guide has been updated repeatedly with the most recent update taking place in 2012.  The Green Guides are designed to help marketing personnel avoid making environmental claims that mislead consumers.

Recently the FTC Green Guides were in the news again. The FTC announced that they would be holding roundtables on how the term “organic” relates to non –agricultural products. That action took place after the FTC had issued a summary decision against California Naturel, Inc. for falsely advertising its sunscreen product as being “all natural”.

The FTC Green Guides may not have guidelines  on everything, but their governmental language makes it clear for all products to stay out of trouble. The Green Guides document states “ marketers must identify all express and implied claims that the advertisement reasonably conveys and ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful.”

The list of products and companies that have been caught up in the FTC Green Guides is very interesting. Products from all types of industries are found in the list. A short diverse summary of some of these cases are shown below:

• Green Certification Seals
• Biodegradable Claims on products at K-Mart
• Plastic Lumber Claims
• Energy Efficiency and Cost Saving Claims on Windows

Even within the metal construction industry a case was brought by the FTC. That case involved charges against two paint companies related to their “Zero VOC” claims.

Transparency, in terms of environmental impact, and in terms of material ingredients, has always been the cornerstone of sustainable products. But as we promote sustainable products we will also need to be clear and accurate in the messaging so that consumers are not misled about these products. It might be worthwhile to take a look at the FTC Green Guides document before embarking on a marketing campaign.

Scott Kriner is the president and founder of Green Metal Consulting Inc. He is a LEED Accredited Professional who began his career in the metal construction industry in 1981. His company is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, the California Association of Building Energy Consultants and the Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET).

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