Truth in Advertising: Let the FTC Know How You Feel

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday behind us – and more holiday sales in front of us – this is the perfect time to visit about shopping.  When I strolled through the market last week, I noticed many product labels bearing the words environmentally friendly or green.  Have you noticed in recent years that, no matter what you are shopping for, green marketing seems to accompany the product?  Advertisers frequently claim that products are biodegradable, made of renewable materials or recycled content, manufactured using renewable energy, or are produced by companies that create carbon offsets. These claims are everywhere. 

Do you ever wonder how some of these companies can make such assertions?  I certainly did.  It can be challenging to make an informed, environmentally-friendly purchasing decision without knowing the specifics of the claim being made.  How do I know it’s not false advertising?  How do I know my expectation of a particular claim is at least similar to that of the person standing next to me? 

Well, there is something out there called Green Guides.  It is the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) short name for Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.  This document outlines the regulations on what companies can claim about their product’s earth friendliness.  The FTC also conducts consumer perception studies to ensure claims are translated in the consumer mind as the message intended. 

Green Guides originally was released in 1992, revised in 1996 and was last updated in 1998.  In order to catch up with the times and new lingo, a review process of the document began in 2007.  Only a few days remain in the final public comment period, which means we have one final opportunity to speak up and have our voices heard. 

Proposed revisions to Green Guides include eliminating unqualified general environmental benefit claims, substantiating third-party certifications and seals of approval, setting a timeline for degradable and compostable claims, and suggested updates for ozone, recyclable and free-of/non-toxic claim regulations.  New guidance is proposed for items companies claim are made with renewable materials or renewable energy, and standards to establish the meaning of carbon offsets are being addressed.

December is a busy time with family, friends and volunteer projects.  As you celebrate your 12 days of Christmas, realize it has been 12 years since Green Guides was last updated.  It may be another decade before it is reviewed again.  This is your chance to tell the FTC that clear environmental advertising claims are important. The comment period deadline is Friday, so the time to share your opinion is now! 

To comment, or to see the complete list of proposed revisions and the consumer perception study, go to ftc.gov/green. For information on Green College Station, go to cstx.gov/green.

Erin Chastain-Harris
Erin Chastain-Harris
Sustainability Coordinator
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