In 1992, in response to a flurry of green marketing claims (the first wave of the green deluge we’re now experiencing), the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a series of guidelines for environmental advertising and marketing messages. Known as the “Green Guides,” these rules are strictly voluntary and are not enforceable by law. (Yet.) However, they are based on Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act, which declares false or deceptive advertising illegal. So don’t take them lightly.
If you’d like to read the Green Guides for yourself, you can do so here.
Otherwise, read on for the quick ‘n’ easy Green-Guides-in-a-Nutshell.
For today, let’s take a look at the four main points set forth in the “General Principles” section of the Guides.
1. Qualifications and disclosures: Language addressing green claims should be clear, prominent and understandable. You should be able to back up any claims with proof.
2. Distinction between benefits of product, package and service: Make sure that if you make a claim for your product, it’s clear whether you’re referring to the product itself or its packaging. (For instance, when using words like “recycled,” “recyclable” or “compostable”.)
3. Overstatement of environmental attribute: What if your manufacturing facility cut its use of chlorine bleach by 50% last year? Sounds great, right? You could get all sorts of great press! But hang on. What if your reduction consisted of your janitor using ¼ cup instead of ½ cup a week of the stuff when he cleans the urinals? Pretty negligible – so button your lips.
4. Comparative claims: When you’re making comparisons you should:
- Make clear what’s being compared. Avoid vague statements like “10% less packaging.” It’s meaningless unless you qualify it like this: “10% less packaging than the leading brand,” or this: “New package – 10% less plastic!” (The word “new” makes it clear that you’re comparing it to your own old packaging.)
- Be able to back up your claims with proof.
Of course, there’s more to it. For example, the Guides go into far more detail on use of specific words like “refillable” and “ozone-friendly.” I’d encourage anyone making claims of sustainability or eco-friendliness in their advertising to familiarize themselves with the Green Guides. But there’s no need to sweat. The suggestions just make good sense, and echo two of the major principles of green marketing: clarity and transparency.
What do you think?
Anne Michelsen is a freelance writer specializing in helping Green and renewable energy companies enjoy increased attention and greater sales through dynamic sales copy and insightful content.
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