Greenwashing

To protect consumers from companies that use misleading environmental marketing claims on products or services—a practice that’s commonly referred to as “greenwashing”—the Federal Trade Commission has just released revisions to the agency’s green guides for the first time since 1998.

The FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, as they’re technically called, were first published back in 1992 with the goal of keeping marketers and advertisers from deceptively promoting their brands and products as eco and environmentally friendly without clear verifiable proof of practices, ingredients or benefits that meet certain criteria. The guidelines are not laws, but, the agency is capable of bringing deceptive advertising enforcement action against companies who disregard the suggestions.

The guides were last updated in 1998, but since then, scores of eco-minded companies have developed environmentally-friendly products as consumer demand for green products continue to rise. The revisions reflect changes in environmentally-friendly practices that have come into popularity since the last update 14 years ago, clarifying the language that can be used. These include claims on products that they are “free of” certain toxins, use-or are made with-renewable energy resources, the use of certain green seals/certificates and whether or not a product can claim carbon offsets.

Along with the new guidelines, the FTC is also increasing its enforcement of claims that the agency says are misleading, and promises to hold the violators accountable.

A 2009 study showed that more than 80 percent of consumers polled say they regularly purchase green products or services, despite the often higher price tag.

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Image: KeepitGreen