FTC Releases New Marketing Guidelines but not Laws

Thu, Oct 4, 2012

6. Misc.

While it is incredibly important for consumers to support brands that promote environmental sustainability, determining which companies are taking that call to action seriously is an increasingly murky proposition. There has been a clear trend of marketing experts using ‘green’ or ‘natural’ claims that aren’t grounded in reality to lure new customers to their brands. Now the federal government is getting involved more involved, and legal action could be the eventual result. The FTC put out an announcement this week that it has completed its “green guide”, formally known as the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims.

The Federal Trade Commission first released these guides back in 1992. The goal then was the same as it is now, to protect consumers and aid advertisers who want to tap into the eco-conscious market without breaking the law. The guides were given an update in 1998, but since then a ton of environmentally conscious companies have entered the market. This latest revision of the green guides should take care of this massive influx.

It is no surprise that more marketers have been using ‘green’ as their buzzword of choice. In fact, marketing a product that way is just as effective a tool as pushing sex appeal these days. According to Green Seal, one of the first companies launched to certify products as environmentally sustainable, more than 80% of consumers polled will purchase green products over other, similar brands. The fact that even in this recession four out of five consumers will go green proves that claims by companies must be watched carefully. After all, if every product out there can declare eco-friendliness without concern for rebuttal, it will dilute the brands that take it seriously and probably lead to new customers ignoring sustainable products altogether.

The changes to the green guides include additions of some newer claims that were not prevalent back in 1998. Products that promise carbon offsets or non-toxic ingredients are now covered, as are the claims of renewable energy usage or green seals of approval or certificates. It’s a great step, though it doesn’t go so far as to carry ingrained legal ramifications. It really is a guidebook for marketers and advertisers suggesting how the Federal Trade Commission (and the consumers themselves) could interpret packaging, therefore giving those parties fair warning to change their ways, or someday face potential litigation.

Some of the practices under fire are claims by marketers or products that are broad and unfounded. Suggesting something is environmentally friendly or green must be backed by proven facts. The same goes for recycled or biodegradeable packaging materials. And in the future, any green seals of approval must follow a certain standard, and if those seals were given to a product by a company through some sort of paid endorsement or corporate relationship, that situation must be disclosed to consumers.

According to spokespeople for the FTC, the hope is that the impact of these new marketing guidelines will be significant. Consumers should be able to trust the information put forward by product labels as truthful, and companies that blatantly break the rules should know that there will be ramifications. The FTC’s statement even mentioned several window manufacturers that are being put to task for claims of energy savings that were patently false. Although consumers probably won’t be able to call an Atlanta injury lawyer to claim some sort of emotional distress, that company and those like it should not be allowed to continue these fraudulent activities without repercussions.

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