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.”