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
^ 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
• 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.
© Copyright 2012 Key Communications Inc. All rights reserved.
No reproduction of any type without expressed written permission.