Want to avoid FTC Green Guide action? Watch your supply chain!

Bottles of chemicalsThe FTC’s latest industry crackdown presents an interesting twist on the green marketing best practice of substantiating one’s claims.

As I’ve noted in the past, the agency seems to be conducting industry-wide audits based on  specific green claims. Several of the FTC’s recent Green Guide actions (including those against three mattress manufacturers last July) have revolved around failure to provide solid scientific evidence to prove environmental claims.

Last October 29, the agency announced six enforcement actions against five plastics companies for inadequate biodegradability claims. Four of these actions were levied against companies that had based their own biodegradability claims on claims made by other companies. Specifically, their claims were dependent on additives (manufactured by third party companies) used in their products. Apparently they never tested to be sure the additives worked as claimed.

It’s a really good practice to maintain a substantiation file for every product for which environmental marketing claims are made; however in light of the plastics claims I believe it’s also very important to take it a step further and be vigilant about claims made down the supply chain as well.

Keep in mind the following statement from the FTC in regards to the recent actions:

The proposed consent orders…make it clear that ASTM D5511 (a test standard commonly used in the additive industry) cannot substantiate unqualified biodegradable claims or claims beyond the results and parameters of the test, and that any testing protocol used to substantiate degradable claims must simulate the conditions found in the stated disposal environment.

Don’t take any supplier claims at face value. If your environmental claims for your products depend on additives or other materials manufactured by another company, it is your responsibility to make sure that those materials really do perform as you believe they do. Ask your suppliers for scientific proof. If theirs is not adequate, work with them to develop adequate substantiation, take the job of substantiation on yourself, or find another supplier. Your company’s reputation is at stake.

 

 

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When Best Practices Can Land You in Trouble

Every industry has its best practices – methods and techniques that have been proven time and again to bring exceptional results. But best practices are based on what has worked in the past. What happens when an industry – or perhaps an entire society – is in flux?

in troubleEvery industry has its best practices – methods and techniques that have been proven time and again to bring exceptional results.

And few industries test their techniques so brutally as direct response copywriting.

After all, a slight tweak to a sales letter can mean a difference of hundreds, thousands, or even millions of dollars in profit – or loss.

So when three of the highest-paid, most successful copywriters in America all endorse a technique, don’t you think you’d better listen?

Normally, I’d say, “You bet! Listen and emulate!”

But heads up – and this is important.

Best practices are based on what has worked in the past. What happens when an industry – or perhaps an entire society – is in flux?

Then you’d better watch your tail. Because blindly following best practices – even when endorsed by giants in their fields – can land you in trouble.

The Magic of False Logic

Bob Bly is an extremely well-known, top-tier B2B copywriter.  Bob publishes an insightful e-newsletter in which he shares many of his excellent copywriting, marketing and personal productivity tips. (It’s worth following.)

A couple of months ago Bob published an e-newsletter article titled The Magic of False Logic.

“False logic,” he explains, is “copy that manipulates (but does not lie about or misrepresent), through skillful writing, existing facts. The objective: to help readers come to conclusions that those facts, presented without the twists of a copywriter’s pen, might not otherwise support.”

He uses the example of a metal broker who claims that “95% of orders (are) shipped from stock,” even though he does not have a warehouse. When questioned, it turns out they are shipped from the metal supplier’s stock, not his own.

­­Green vs. the Three Giants

Bob Bly isn’t the only master copywriter to endorse the “false logic” technique. I’ve seen Dan Kennedy and Michael Masterson encourage it, too.

Now, each of these individuals belongs to the upper echelon of the copywriting world. To put it in perspective, they are the Donald Trumps and the Bill Gates of their profession. They know what they are talking about, and then some.

So when I say they are wrong, I’m risking my reputation.

But I’m going to say it anyway.

THEY’RE WRONG.

They’re wrong, at least, if you are selling anything that might be considered “green.”

What the Green Guides Say

False logic is an effective, proven technique. And it’s endemic in conventional marketing.

However, when applied to green claims, it’s an approach that is likely to violate the FTC’s standards for environmental messaging.

In Section 260.2 (Interpretation and Substantiation of Environmental Marketing Claims), the Green Guides state:

“A representation, omission, or practice is deceptive if it is likely to mislead consumers acting reasonably under the circumstances and is material to consumers’ decisions…To determine if an advertisement is deceptive, marketers must identify all express and implied claims that the advertisement reasonably conveys. Marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims.”

Preventing deceptive claims is the primary purpose of the Green Guides. The FTC doesn’t care about the literal truth – the only thing that matters to it is whether or not customers might find your statement misleading.

The FTC’s Zero Tolerance

Last October’s FTC action against two paint companies is an excellent example. The paints in question were labeled “Zero VOC.” This was technically true – for the paints as they came in the bucket.

However, depending on the final colors used to tint the paint, the customer could end up going home with paint containing measurable VOC content.

The FTC showed zero tolerance for truth twisting in this case. This, even though one of the companies had included a disclosure in their marketing collateral.  (The disclosure wasn’t obvious enough, according to the agency.)

A Better Best Practice

Best practice or not, I would be very careful about using false logic when marketing and advertising green products and services.

And given the trends I am seeing towards greater transparency even amongst mainstream companies, I would hazard a guess that it’s not the safest bet for anyone anymore.

Despite Bob Bly’s assurance that false logic is not lying or manipulation, it’s a fine line between truth and misrepresentation, and the technique can dance you dangerously close to the edge. All it takes is one or two dissatisfied customers who feel they’ve been lied to (whether or not it’s true) to smear your name all over social media. And then, of course, there’s the FTC.

A better best practice?

Use real logic.

Figure out how to position the truth of your service, product or company as a benefit to your customer.

Like that metal broker. It seems to me that instead of pretending to be something he’s not, he could position himself as having a unique business model (which he does; instead of being a dealer with a big warehouse like all his competitors, he’s one guy in an office.)

He could explain how his business is based on relationships, and how he uses those relationships to meet his customers’ needs better and faster than the competition.

In fact, a true story like that might even be more compelling than his dicey false logic claim.

Just sayin.’

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FTC Green Guide Action Leads to $350K Fine for Misrepresenting Insulation R-Value

Last week’s FTC-related action against an insulation marketer for misleading R-value and energy efficiency claims is proof that the agency has real teeth. Hopefully other insulation marketers will take the hint and upgrade their messaging to proper compliance standards.

Home insulation
According to the FTC’s “R-Value Rule,” any purveyor of home insulation must supply accurate product R-value information to its customers.

Just last Thursday, the U.S. Department of Justice prevailed in a court case against home insulation marketer Edward Sumpolec. Sumpolec had been doing business as Thermalkool, Thermalcool, and Energy Conservation Specialists, and was first cited by the FTC in 2009. Last week’s ruling by a federal court ordered him to pay a fine of $350,000.

Sumpolec had been making unqualified R-value and energy efficiency claims about liquid  coating and radiant barrier products, including such statements as “This . . . reflective coating will reduce wall and roof temperatures by 50-95 degrees . . .” and “Saves 40 to 60% on your energy bills.”

In addition, Sumpolec was cited for violating the FTC’s R-Value Rule, which states that insulation providers must have a reasonable basis for any r-value claims, must keep accurate records of those claims for three years, and must supply fact sheets about the R-value of their products to their customers.

This latest FTC-related action is proof that the agency has real teeth, and also that they don’t limit their scope only to manufacturers. Hopefully other insulation marketers will take the hint and upgrade their messaging to proper compliance standards.

View the FTC’s original press release here: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2013/01/sumpolec.shtm

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White Paper Reveals Formula for FTC Green Guide Compliance

“The FTC Green Guides Made Simple” white paper reveals my Q.U.I.E.T. method for greater transparency – essential for green marketing compliance.

“The FTC Green Guides Made Simple” reveals my Q.U.I.E.T. method for greater transparency – essential for green marketing compliance.

Ultimately, the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are a good thing for green business.  Having compliance guidelines in place levels the playing field for ethical companies. They also serve to protect consumers from misleading or deceptive tactics. In the long term, the resulting market transparency will reduce the backlash and consumer dissatisfaction associated with greenwashing.

However, in the short term, let’s face it: compliance can seem like just another set of hoops to jump through while we’re trying to juggle all our other day-to-day responsibilities.

That’s why I’ve developed my Q.U.I.E.T. method for achieving transparency – the heart of Green Guide compliance – in your marketing messages.

What is the Q.U.I.E.T. method?

Q.U.I.E.T. stands for five important actions to take for transparent green marketing:

  • Quanitfy and Qualify
  • Understand Sustainability
  • (Practice) Integrity
  • Empathize, and
  • Third Party Certify

Together, these five elements work together to help you achieve transparency easily and naturally. Once you have them working for you, compliance becomes much, much easier.

I’ve outlined the Q.U.I.E.T. method in detail in my latest white paper, The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing ComplianceRequest your free copy today!

 

Handy Directory of Federal Green Legislation

Keeping up with federal green legislation can be a little daunting, since there are over 2 dozen acts involved. To make it easier, Greenerful.com has put together a list of US green legislation.

Green legislation reflects a realization that our soil, air and water are natural capital that must be preserved in order to maximize human health, wealth and well being.

Did you know that there are over two dozen federal acts protecting the environment? From clean air to cosmetics, these regulations help maintain a healthier environment for all of us.

However, keeping up with them all can be a little daunting. To make it easier, Greenerful.com has put together a list of US green legislation. I’d suggest scanning the list to see which ones apply to your business. You might also want to bookmark the page for later reference.

Here’s the link: Federal Green Legislation list

Not included on this list is the FTC Act, legislation designed to curb unfair trade practices, including deceptive marketing. The Green Guides are the FTC’s guidelines for FTC Act compliance in regards to environmental claims (in other words, anti-greenwashing guidelines.) You can order my free report on Green Guide compliance here: The FTC Green Guides Made Simple

 

 

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FTC Takes First Action Since Release of Revised Green Guides

On October 25, the Federal Trade Commission cited two paint companies for misleading “Zero VOC” claims on paint can labels and promotional material. This is the first enforcement action taken by the FTC since releasing its updated green marketing guidelines. What are the lessons here? First…

Last week the FTC cited two paint companies for distributing misleading “Zero VOC” claims. Could this be the beginning of a major wave of Green Guides enforcement?

Less than a month after releasing its updated version of the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides), the Federal Trade Commission has taken its first action concerning environmental claims since last April.

On October 25, the FTC cited two paint companies, Sherwin Williams (maker of Dutch Boy Refresh paint) and PPG Architectural Finishes, Inc. (a division of PPG Industries and manufacturer of Pure Performance paint), for misleading “Zero VOC”  claims on paint can labels and promotional material.

In both cases, the paints in question contained no or trace amounts of VOC’s in the base formulation. However, in numerous instances the colorants used to tint the paint add enough VOC’s that the final product cannot qualify as “Zero VOC.”

The FTC ruled that since base paint is designed to be tinted and is added to the paint at the time of purchase and at no additional charge, any reasonable consumer would assume the “Zero VOC” claim to apply to the tinted final product.

One of the companies, Sherwin Williams, had included a disclaimer on their promotional materials and on the backs of the paint cans, stating that “some colors may not be zero VOC after tinting with conventional colorants.”

However, the FTC ruled that since the “vast majority” of the colors offered result in VOC levels above trace amounts in the finished paint, the disclaimer was not sufficient to prevent deception. “Any reasonable consumer who saw the inconspicuous disclosure…would likely be deceived about the VOC content of Dutch Boy Refresh paints,” wrote the FTC in their complaint against the company.

Both companies have agreed to work with the FTC to prevent future deception in their advertising.

What are the lessons here?

First, take Green Guide compliance seriously.

The FTC announced their revised green marketing guidelines two full years ago, giving ample notice to companies that might be affected. Now that the revisions have been officially adopted, the FTC is likely to ramp up enforcement.

Second, green compliance demands that marketers think about the whole picture and put themselves in the shoes of the consumer.

Any analysis of the base paint entering the cans in the factory would uphold the “Zero VOC” claims. However, the end user doesn’t use base paint, they use tinted paint. If you make a claim, be sure it will hold up under real life circumstances.

And third, the FTC doesn’t give points for good intentions.

Sherwin Williams did include a disclosure about possible higher levels of VOC’s in tinted paint. Unfortunately it wasn’t adequate to convince the FTC

Even more than the literal truth of your green marketing claim, the FTC is concerned with how the end user interprets your claim – and whether he or she is adequately informed. When you make a green claim, double check the details. Make sure they’re clear and accurate (again, from the point of view of the consumer in real life situations.) When in doubt, err on the side of over-disclosure.

 

Want to know more about how you can be Green Guide compliant? Request a complimentary copy of my report, “The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance.”  It’s a must-have for anyone involved in marketing eco-friendly products or services.  It’s scheduled for release in just a few days, and you can be one of the first to get it! Just contact me and ask for your free copy of the “Green Guides Made Simple.”

FTC Green Guides – Not Just Guidelines Anymore

In my last post, I explained that the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are not officially law, (although they are backed by Section 5 of the FTC Act, which is.) However, this is not 100% true. Sometimes the Green Guides are law. It just depends what state you’re in.

Recycling symbolIn my last post, I explained that the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides are not officially law, (although they are backed by Section 5 of the FTC Act, which is.)

However, this is not 100% true.  Sometimes the Green Guides are law. It just depends what state you’re in.

As it happens, individual states are starting to hop on the anti-greenwashing bandwagon. And it turns out that the Green Guides provide a very easy way for them to amend state law to prohibit misleading or deceptive environmental marketing claims.

For instance, take a look at this excerpt from California’s Business and Professions Code Section 17580-17581:

17580.5.  (a) It is unlawful for any person to make any untruthful, deceptive, or misleading environmental marketing claim, whether explicit or implied. For the purpose of this section, “environmental marketing claim” shall include any claim contained in the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” published by the Federal Trade Commission.

(b) It shall be a defense to any suit or complaint brought underthis section that the person’s environmental marketing claims conform to the standards or are consistent with the examples contained in the “Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims” published by the Federal Trade Commission.

Or this one, from Maine’s statues governing waste reduction and recycling:

  A person who labels, advertises or promotes a product in violation of guidelines for the use of environmental marketing claims published by the Federal Trade Commission in 16 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 260…commits a violation of the Maine Unfair Trade Practices Act.

Minnesota’s 2012 statutes also require that marketers conform to the Green Guides “regarding general environmental benefits claims, claims that a product or package is degradable, compostable, recyclable, or contains recycled content, and claims relating to source reduction, refillability, or ozone safety” – but only if the claim is made “in an attempt to influence purchasing decisions by end users of the product.” (This is actually an important distinction. It allows those farther up the supply chain a lot more leeway in their claims.)

Finally, the State of Rhode Island’s Environmental Marketing Act is little more than a wholesale adoption of the Green Guides into state law. Easy, peasy.

So what does it matter, if the Guides are already federally enforceable under Section 5?

Well, attorneys Annie Mullin and Dan Deeb of Schiff Hardin believe “there will be an increase in private party actions because marketers have more ammunition to bring actions against a competitor if the competitor is making a deceptive green claim.”

Not to mention actions brought against companies by concerned private citizens. And state endorsement simply make it that much easier for legal actions to take place.

Just another reason to take the Green Guides seriously.

 

Want to know more about how you can be Green Guide compliant? Request a complimentary copy of my two-part report, “The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance.”  It’s a must-have for anyone involved in marketing eco-friendly products or services.  It’s scheduled for release in just a few days, and you can be one of the first to get it! Just contact me and ask for your free copy of the “Green Guides Made Simple.”

 

 

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FTC’s Green Guides: Voluntary Guidelines or Law?

This post is the first in a series covering the changes to the Green Guides. I think it’s appropriate to start not with the individual regulations (we’ll get to those over the next few weeks) but with Section 260.1 of the Green Guides: “Purpose, Scope and Structure of the Guides.”

Hand with gavel
Are the FTC’s Green Guides simply voluntary guidelines, or are they laws that demand compliance? As it turns out, they’re somewhere in between.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission finally released their revised Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or Green Guides. Even though the revisions were made public a full two years ago, this recent action is still worthy of notice.  If you haven’t already, now would be a very good time to familiarize yourself with the new guidelines.

This post is the first in a series covering the changes to the Green Guides. I think it’s appropriate to start not with the individual regulations (we’ll get to those over the next few weeks) but with Section 260.1 of the Green Guides: “Purpose, Scope and Structure of the Guides.”

Today I want to look at the very first point under Section 260.1. In the FTC’s own words:

These guides set forth the Federal Trade Commission’s current views about environmental claims.The guides help marketers avoid making environmental marketing claims that are unfair or deceptive under Section 5 of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45. They do not confer any rights on any person and do not operate to bind the FTC or the public. The Commission, however, can take action under the FTC Act if a marketer makes an environmental claim inconsistent with the guides. In any such enforcement action, the Commission must prove that the challenged act or practice is unfair or deceptive in violation of Section 5 of the FTC Act.

In this section, the FTC is making five distinct and very important points. In plain language, they are:

  1. The purpose of the Green Guides is to help and assist marketers. We’ll explore this idea more thoroughly in future posts.
  2. The Green Guides themselves are not laws. However…
  3. They are meant to clarify Section 5 of the FTC Act, which is very much a part of corporate law. And…
  4. The Guides are actionable under  Section 5. Ignore them at your peril.
  5. Finally, Section 260.1 states that it is up to the FTC to prove that a claim is deceptive under Section 5, should they choose to take action.

The take home point here is that while the Guides themselves are voluntary, Section 5 is law.  The FTC can nail you under Section 5 if they don’t like how you perform under the Green Guides. (So really, the Guides aren’t that voluntary. But don’t tell the FTC.)

Also,  it’s a very good idea to back up any environmental claim with reliable scientific proof.

What is your company doing to ensure FTC compliance?

 

Want to know more about how you can be Green Guide compliant? Request a complimentary copy of my two-part report, “The FTC Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance.”  It’s a must-have for anyone involved in marketing eco-friendly products or services.  It’s scheduled for release in just a few days, and you can be one of the first to get it! Just contact me and ask for your free copy of the “Green Guides Made Simple.”

 

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It’s about time – FTC releases revised Green Guides

It’s been two full years since the Federal Trade Commission released its Proposed Changes to the Green Guides. Just last week, they finally decided to make them official.

Recycled Paper logo
Before you add a logo like this to your packaging, be sure to check the revised Green Guides to be sure you’re FTC compliant.

It’s been two full years since the Federal Trade Commission released its Proposed Changes to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (more commonly known as the Green Guides.) Just last week, they finally decided to make them official.

The revised Green Guides include updated and clarified guidance on general marketing claims as well as compostable, degradable, recycled, recyclable, ozone, and source reduction claims.

In addition, the updated Guides contain new sections on claims pertaining to carbon offsets, renewable energy, and renewable materials, along with “free of” and “non-toxic” claims. 

As far as I’m concerned, it’s excellent timing, as I have been working on (and was about to release) a white paper on FTC Green Guide compliance. Titled The FTC’s Green Guides Made Simple: A Companion Guide for Achieving Green Marketing Compliance, the paper explains the general principles behind the Green Guides,  outlines a simple program for compliance, and includes a “Cliff’s Notes” version of the Green Guides to help your compliance process go faster and easier. This week’s move by the FTC may delay publication by a week or two, but you can still be one of the first to get your hands on it. Request your copy here.

 

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