Volume 13, Issue 9 - November/December 2012


FTC Says Beware of Making Green Claims
Define What Green Really Means

by Megan Headley

Sometimes it seems the whole world has gone green, as more consumers seek products that will improve their energy efficiency, and more manufacturers are only too happy to provide sustainable, high-performing products. But what does that really mean?

For some manufacturers, “green” is all in the marketing and not noticeable in the end product. Because those “green washers” are out there, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is cracking down on environmental marketing in an effort to make sure any claims to be green are “truthful and based on solid scientific evidence.”

Caught up on this crackdown were 14 window manufacturers that have issued marketing materials in accordance with the FTC’s warning that their claims may toe the line of what constitutes acceptable claims.

Among those cautioned by the FTC was Cardinal Glass Industries, which received a letter in September from the commission. In it, the FTC said the commission had made no determination as to whether the company was actually violating the law.

“The FTC has asked that we review our heating and cooling savings claims,” Bowie Neumayer, vice president of sales and marketing for Cardinal IG, told DWM after receiving the letters. “Our data was generated from nine test houses in three regions. We are communicating with the FTC and expect to have this cleared up.”

As of press time, Neumayer noted that the issue was close to being resolved.

To prevent such confusion in the future, window and glass manufacturers should review the recently released update to FTC’s Guide to Environmental Marketing Claims, better known as “Green Guides.” The guide is designed to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about the environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive.

The revisions to the “Green Guides” include new sections concerning the use of carbon offsets, “green” certifications and seals, and renewable energy and renewable materials claims. The organization also modified and clarified sections of the previous Guides.

The big requirement that the Guides asks marketers to meet is to be able to answer “yes” when asked: Can you back it up?

“Marketers must ensure that all reasonable interpretations of their claims are truthful, not misleading, and supported by a reasonable basis before they make the claims,” the Guides states. The tests that Neumayer cited in Cardinal’s case are one example of acceptable back-up.

Other advice from FTC includes:
• Qualifications and disclosures should be clear, prominent and understandable to prevent deceptive claims.
• Unless it is clear from the context, an environmental marketing claim should specify whether it refers to the full product or just a portion.
• Don’t state or imply environmental benefits if the benefits are negligible. In other words, if your energy performance has increased by 50 percent—but you don’t clarify that this means from 2 to 4 percent efficiency—the FTC will take a second look at your claim.
• Don’t make comparative claims. So your product is 30-percent more efficient than competitive products? Unless you clearly state who that competitor is, the end-user has no way of determining the significance of that claim.
• Green Guides also now reminds marketers not to use the name, logo, or seal of approval of a third-party certifier or organization unless you have certification or approval of that third-party. That may seem obvious, but be careful of how you use those logos. The Guides offers several examples of problematic logo use:

^ A sales brochure features a seal with the text “EcoFriendly Building Association” to show that the marketer is a member of that organization. Although the manufacturer is, in fact, a member, this association has not evaluated the environmental attributes of the marketer’s product. This advertisement would be deceptive because it conveys that the EcoFriendly Building Association evaluated the product through testing or other objective standards;
^ A product label contains an environmental seal from “EarthSmart,” an independent, third-party certifier with expertise in evaluating chemical emissions of products. While the marketer meets EarthSmart’s standards for reduced chemical emissions during product usage, the product has no other specific environmental benefits. This advertisement would be deceptive because it conveys that the product has far-reaching benefits, and that EarthSmart certified the product for all of them.
^ A one-quart bottle of window cleaner features a seal with the text “Environment Approved,” granted by an independent, third-party certifier with appropriate expertise. The certifier granted the seal after evaluating 35 environmental attributes. This seal likely conveys that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits and that Environment Approved certified the product for all of these benefits and therefore is likely deceptive. The seal would likely not be deceptive if the marketer accompanied it with language clearly conveying that the seal refers only to specific and limited benefits. For example: “Virtually all products impact the environment. For details on which attributes we evaluated, go to [a website that discusses this product].”

• A truthful claim that a product is free of, or does not contain or use, a substance may still be deceptive if the product contains or uses substances that pose similar environmental risks as the substance that is not present. Be careful of tossing around “VOC-free” if your product has replaced volatile organic compounds with a similarly harmful substance.
• FTC also now states that a product should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for reuse or use in manufacturing or assembling another item. Marketers must clearly qualify recyclable claims to avoid deception about the availability of recycling programs and collection sites to consumers. If your window can only be recycled in a handful of facilities around the country, you need to specify that limitation in any recyclability claims.
• Be careful of those recycled-content claims, too. FTC says that it is deceptive to represent that an item contains recycled content unless it is composed of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream, either during the manufacturing process (pre-consumer), or after consumer use (post-consumer). Moreover, if the source of recycled content includes pre-consumer material, the advertiser should have substantiation that the pre-consumer material would otherwise have entered the waste stream. According to Green Guides, if a glass manufacturer collects cullet from the original manufacturing process and combines this with virgin material for use in production of the same product, a recycled content claim is deceptive since the cullet is normally reused by industry within the original manufacturing process and would not normally have entered the waste stream.
• Finally, as more and more building product manufacturers are going solar, consider carefully how you promote your facility’s renewable energy capabilities. FTC says it is deceptive to make an unqualified “made with renewable energy” claim unless all, or virtually all, of the significant manufacturing processes involved in making the product are powered with renewable energy or non-renewable energy matched by renewable energy certificates. Or, let’s say a window manufacturer places solar panels on the roof of its plant and advertises that its plant is “100-percent solar-powered,” but then sells renewable energy certificates based on the renewable attributes of all the power it generates, it must qualify its claim. Even if the manufacturer uses some of the electricity generated by the solar panels, it has, by selling renewable energy certificates, transferred the right to characterize that electricity as renewable.

Review your marketing materials, then visit www.ftc.gov/ os/2012/10/greenguides.pdf to ensure your claims are in line with what FTC deems acceptable.

Megan Headley is a contributing writer for DWM magazine.


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