CHICAGO — When promoting your business’ “green” practices, be mindful that the FTC Act gives the Federal Trade Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading marketing claims, including environmental or “green” marketing claims.
The FTC has issued the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (“Green Guides”) to prevent the false or misleading use of environmental terms in product or service advertising and marketing and to reduce consumer confusion.
From the FTC website, here is the Commission’s staff’s view of the law’s requirements:
Substantiation — All marketers making express or implied claims about the attributes of their product, package or service must have substantiation—a reasonable basis for their claims. When it comes to environmental claims, competent and reliable scientific evidence may be required.
Specificity — Environmental claims should not exaggerate or overstate attributes or benefits. Comparative environmental claims should be clear to avoid consumer confusion about what is being compared.
General Claims — Specific environmental claims are easier to substantiate than general claims and less likely to be deceptive. An unqualified general claim of environmental benefit may convey that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits, when it doesn’t.
Products advertised as “environmentally preferable” are likely to convey to consumers an environmental superiority to other products. A broad claim like that would be deceptive if the manufacturer cannot substantiate it. The claim would not be deceptive if it is accompanied by clear and prominent qualifying language that limits the environmental superiority representation to the particular product attribute that can be substantiated.
Eco-Seals, Seals of Approval and Certifications — Environmental seals of approval, eco-seals and certifications from third-party organizations imply that a product is environmentally superior to other products or services. Because such broad claims are difficult to substantiate, seals of approval should be accompanied by information that explains the basis for the award. If the seal implies that a third party has certified the product, the certifying party must be truly independent from the advertiser and have the appropriate professional expertise.