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FTC revises, adds to Green Guides

Laura KossLaura Koss, a staff attorney with the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, explains the FTC’s recently revised Green Guides for eco-marketing claims in an online video. It can be viewed at http://business.ftc. gov/multimedia/videos/green-guides.
HIGH POINT - In October, the Federal Trade Commission released its revised Green Guides, which take aim at making sure marketers substantiate environmental claims.
     The Guides contain new sections on certifications and seals of approval, carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxics, renewable energy and renewable materials claims. They also have guidance on compostable, ozone, recyclable and recycled content claims.
     The guides are general principles for environmental marketing and give guidance for qualifying and substantiating claims for clarity with consumers.
     The FTC issued the first Green Guides in 1992, with subsequent updates in 1996 and 1998. Changes were proposed in 2010 following the green renaissance of the mid-to-late 2000s, which helped shape the newly revised guides.
     The FTC noted that in recent years it has stepped up enforcement against companies making deceptive environmental claims. In one case, the FTC sued a company offering "free" books showing consumers how to become "green millionaires" by installing roof solar panels for free.
     Since 2009, the FTC has settled or barred exaggerated energy efficiency cost savings claims by window makers, green certifications that were neither tested nor green, biodegradable claims, rayon fabric advertised as "environmentally friendly" bamboo, and paper products that were claimed to be biodegradable.
     According to the guides, all marketers, regardless of their size, must comply with Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits ‘‘unfair or deceptive acts or practices in or affecting commerce.''
     The FTC often gives small businesses a chance to come into compliance after informal counseling or a warning letter advising them of the need to revise claims, according to the guides. If a company fails to respond, it often follows up with investigations and enforcement.
     The guides were revised to make them more sophisticated and up-to-date, said Vicki L. Worden, president of Worden Associates, which consults with the Specialty Sleep Assn.
     "So much has changed from when the original version was put together in terms of environmental marketing claims, and that was really the purpose of creating a revised version of the guides," Worden said.
     "In terms of furniture and bedding, I think there are still a lot of general claims being made by the industry and the updated green guides are very loud and clear (that) there should not be unsubstantiated claims made," she said.
     The guides direct marketers to craft messages that give consumers a uniform way to judge one product against another, she said. They emphasize that marketers should be able to qualify all claims.
     Among the changes, the guides caution marketers against making broad and unqualified claims that products are "environmentally friendly" or "eco-friendly" because very few have the attributes consumers perceive with those claims.
     Areas that could affect the furniture industry include some claims made by marketers of bonded leather products that they are recycled, according to guidance on that term in the revised guides.
     Others involve claims that a material is "renewable." Those claims must be qualified with terms that distinguish how fast a renewable material like bamboo is replenished, or by saying how fast a renewable material is replenished compared with how much of it is used.
     One area addressed is the relationship between providers of seals and certifications and the manufacturers - namely that those relationships are clear to the consumer, so the credibility of claims can be assessed, Worden said.
     Seals should also clearly show what attributes are being highlighted so consumers have a basis for comparison, she said.

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