FTC Strengthens Green Marketing Guidelines

Consumer Advocacy Groups Hopeful Updates Will Reduce Greenwashing

FTCAiming to crack down on deceptive claims, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has released an updated set of standards for the marketing of so-called "green" products. While the guidelines are not formal regulations, the FTC can still issue warnings and punish those that exaggerate claims with fines.

"They're going to bring substantial change to the marketplace," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said, referring to the new rules. "The introduction of environmentally-friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and for producers who want to sell them. But this win-win can only occur if marketers' claims are truthful and substantiated."

To try to drive more honest marketing, the FTC is compelling companies to avoid making unqualified claims that their products are beneficial to the environment or otherwise eco-friendly. For example, the FTC is advising firms not to use the term "degradable" unless marketers can prove the entire product or package will completely and naturally break down within a year of disposal.

Consumer advocacy groups are hopeful the updates will reduce greenwashing – a deceptive practice used by companies to promote a single "green" aspect of a product, when other components of the item may not be good for the environment. Yet, critics of the guideline changes believe the FTC didn't go far enough, stressing a lack of specifics in the updates. To that point, the FTC has said it is not addressing the use of the terms "sustainable," "natural" or "organic."