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.”

 

 

photo credit: artbymags via photopin cc

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.”

 

photo credit: Vectorportal via photopin cc

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.

 

photo credit: marcreck via photopin cc

FTC’s crackdown on Greenwashing – top 4 things Green marketers should know

Last February I wrote a short post about the FTC’s Green Guides – regulatory rules for Green marketing (Are Your Green Claims FTC Compliant?).  At that time common wisdom seemed to be that following the Green Guides, while a very good idea, was still largely a voluntary measure.

However, Greenwashing is a hot topic and one that has a lot of consumers up in arms (for good reason.)  The FTC  has started to enforce these rules seriously – and not only for big companies.  So if you’re not keen on the idea of being hounded by government regulators, it’s time to sit up and pay attention, and make sure you stay in the FTC’s good graces.

Green CSR strategist and Green marketing consultant Perry Goldschein recently posted an excellent article on this topic which I highly recommend reading.  Here’s an excerpt:

Up until recently, green marketing has been somewhat of a “wild west” as a result of increasing consumer interest, a lack of “truth in advertising” claims enforcement, a dearth of definitions or standards around green marketing claims, and an accompanying explosion of “eco-labels” (over 300 and counting).

That’s changing rapidly, as the FTC cracks down on “greenwashing” and soon issues new environmental guidelines. Following the end of a long, eight-year enforcement hiatus, the FTC has filed several greenwashing complaints and sent several dozen warnings to others since 2008. In fact, the FTC now considers prosecuting misleading green marketing claims as one of its seven priority areas for its consumer protection division.

Read the rest of Perry’s article here: “FTC Ending Green Marketing’s “Wild West?” Top 4 Things to Know.

Are Your Green Claims FTC Compliant?

FTC seal
It's a good idea to be aware of FTC guidelines when making green claims in your marketing.

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.

Subscribe to Anne’s bi-weekly tips and insights into marketing, sales writing and sustainability, and get a complimentary copy of her Green marketing report, Making Sense of the Green Sector: What Every Marketer Should Know About Selling Sustainable Products and Services.