Volume 9, Issue 6 - June 2008

eye on energy

The FTC is Watching
Make Sure You Back up your Green Claims 
by Arlene Z. Stewart

When I walked around the International Builders’ Show back in February, I saw a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) environmental claims suit waiting to happen. The entire West Hall had been bitten by the green bug. New products that were environmentally preferred, eco-friendly, recyclable, recycled and/or sustainable dominated every corner of the hall. 

Don’t Wash the Message 
Except most of them were green-washed, meaning that more money was spent on marketing something as green than actually making it green. In the entire hall, I found only one company that got it right. “We’re expecting the test report back from the lab next week. We think we’re going to have 50-percent recycled, post-industrial content,” said a rep from a company that made nails. Wow! Only one company seemed to have actually read the FTC Green Guides. Only one company had backed and educated its salesforce enough to make a reasonably accurate claim.

Now, truth be told, I didn’t include fenestration manufacturers in my informal survey. I didn’t think this was necessary as I am very familiar with various companies and people in the industry who have been looking at green issues for a long time. In fact, there’s been enough interest that the American Architectural Manufacturers Association (AAMA) announced recently that it will develop a green certification program. 

But let’s get back to the FTC for a minute, so I can explain its Green Guide. These are documents from FTC staff that “provide insight about general principles for all environmental marketing claims and provide specifics about certain green claims, such as degradability …. recyclability, recycled content and ozone safety.” Laura Koss from the FTC staff indicated that the guides were slated to be updated every ten years, but that the review period was moved up a year because of all the green activity. Many topics simply are not covered currently, so FTC is taking public comment. There are more workshops planned and Koss tells me that one of the topics they are considering is building materials.

Green Certification Program for Fenestration
Now, I suspect that some readers are grousing, “Not another meeting! Why do we need another regulation? Another hoop to jump through?”

This reaction always puzzles me, especially from an industry with such pride in its certification programs. Fenestration manufacturers have struggled to find their niche in the green marketplace and yet, in my mind, it’s been sitting under our collective noses all the time.

Truly, there is nothing that I have seen in the green community that could touch a certification program developed by the fenestration industry. I’m not singling any particular one out, because it wouldn’t matter. Pick one—they all have better infrastructure than any of the green certifications to which I’ve been privy. I firmly believe that when FTC starts to focus on building materials, it will be the fenestration industry that sets the bar for all other green programs.

So the timing to develop a green fenestration program is perfect. The window industry can let the FTC know that they are developing a program with the substantiation and specificity needed for proper environmental claims. The process isn’t so far along that a lot of work will be wasted should FTC change its policies. 

As for the industry program, the development process is going to take a while. The 101 standard and its subsequent certification program weren’t created in a day. I suspect it wasn’t created in a decade either. However, I can see far, far down the road that the green certification will eventually have the same sort of set up. Instead of air and water and structural and forced entry, we might wind up using topics defined by FTC. Until then, it appears that the first iteration of the AAMA program will be based on points, following the current popular pattern. 

Until the program hits the streets, I would caution manufacturers to be wary of the seven deadly sins as identified by Terra Choice Environmental Markets: Avoid hidden trade-offs, false or thinly supported claims, vague or irrelevant claims or promoting environmental qualities when they are of questionable value. 

Arlene Zavocki Stewart is a member of the Efficient Windows Collaborative and an energy code advocate. She can be reached at azstewart@azsconsultinginc.com. The views and opinions expressed in this article and in materials of the Collaborative do not necessarily reflect those of this magazine.


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