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FTC Revising Green Marketing Guidelines

The Federal Trade Commission regulates "environmental claims" that affect product development, packaging, advertising and recycling programs.

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November, 2007 -- The Federal Trade Commission announced Monday it will begin reviewing its environmental marketing guidelines in January, a year before the review was originally planned.

Green Marketing Claims Governed by FTC

A flurry of green marketing claims led to the agency's decision to take a look at its Green Guides, which were last updated in 1998. The guides offer guidance for companies making green claims, such as for compostability, recyclability, and recycled content.

The agency's first workshop in January 2008 will focus on how companies market carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates.

The announcement comes a week after the release of a report from TerraChoice Environmental Marketing showing that the vast majority of green marketing claims are inaccurate or inappropriate.

The firm researched more than 1,000 consumer products with environmental claims and found that all but one violated at least one of the report's "Six Sins of Greenwashing."

The Federal Trade Commission is requesting comments on the Green Guides in regard to their costs, benefits, and effectiveness. The first comment period will be open through Feb. 1.

Current FTC Regulations for Environmental Claims

Issued in 1992, the FTC Guidelines for Environmental Marketing Claims ( or "Green Guides" do not constitute a labeling system as such, but they are designed to have an effect on labeling. The guidelines are intended to prevent false or misleading use of advertising claims such as "environmentally friendly," "degradable," and "recyclable." Confusion over the meaning of such terms affected not only consumers but also companies, who were concerned about lawsuits over their environmental claims.

The FTC Guides Outline Four General Principles for Environmental Claims

  • Wualifications and disclosures should be sufficiently clear and conspicuous to prevent deception;
  • Claims should make clear whether they apply to the product, packaging, or just a component of either;
  • Claims should not overstate environmental benefits; and
  • Comparative claims should be presented in such a way that the basis for comparison is clear.

The guides also addressed claims concerning

  • Environmental friendliness
  • Degradability
  • Compostability
  • Recyclability
  • Recycled content
  • Source reduction
  • Refillability, and
  • Czone friendliness

Section 5 of the FTC Act

The Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims or "guides"

FTC Green Rule

Related Resources for Green Marketing

Complying with Environmental Marketing Guides: FTC Publication Environmental Marketing Claims.

This article provides excellent details on legal approaches to environmental claims:

The FTC looks at all advertising from the ... standards for environmental performance or prescribe testing protocols.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) seeks to prevent deception and unfairness in the marketplace. The FTC Act gives the Commission the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading marketing claims, including environmental or "green" marketing claims. The FTC issued its Environmental Guides, often referred to as the "Green Guides," in 1992, and revised them most recently in 1998. The Guides indicate how the Commission will apply Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices, to environmental marketing claims.

Claims must provide

  • Substantiation
  • Specificity

Eco-Seals, Seals-of-Approval and Certifications

Environmental seals-of-approval, eco-seals and certifications from third-party organizations imply that a product is environmentally superior to other products. Because such broad claims are difficult to substantiate, seals-of-approval should be accompanied by information that explains the basis for the award. If the seal-of-approval implies that a third party has certified the product, the certifying party must be truly independent from the advertiser and must have professional expertise in the area that is being certified.


Many consumers are confused about what they can recycle in their communities because so many products display the universal recycling symbol. Often called the "three-chasing-arrows" or "Mobius loop," this image is likely to convey that the packaging is both "recyclable" and "recycled." Unless both messages can be substantiated, the claim should make clear whether the reference is to the package's recyclability or its recycled content.

National Center for Environmental Economics

NCEE analyzes relationships between the economy, environmental health, and environmental pollution control. This includes:
  • Economic benefits and costs
  • Economic incentives
  • Size, composition, and effects of the pollution control industry
  • Risk assessment data used in economic analyses

SOURCE: EPA National Center for Environmental Economics

Association of Environmental and Resource Economists

AERE provides many forums for exchanging ideas relevant to the allocation and management of natural and environmental resources.

AERE Business Office
Marilyn M. Voigt
AERE Business Office
1616 P Street NW, Suite 600
Washington, DC 20036
Telephone: 202-328-5125
Facsimile: 202-939-3460

Edited by Carolyn Allen
| green marketing | FTC | certification |


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