FTC Considers Updates for Green Guides to Address Greenwashing
With a rising interest among consumers for more sustainable products, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is in the review process as it considers updates to its Green Guides for the first time in over a decade. The updates are meant to address greenwashing and misinformation around recyclable and renewable product labeling.
Although the Green Guides, which were last updated in 2012, are not binding, they can give more backing to legal cases filed by the FTC against industries and companies that may be misleading in their marketing claims.
“A growing number of American consumers are looking to buy environmentally friendly, ‘green’ products, from recycled paper to biodegradable trash bags. Companies have responded with ‘green’ marketing touting the environmental benefits of what they’re selling,” the FTC said on its website. “But sometimes what companies think their green claims mean and what consumers really understand are two different things.”
The review is focused on recyclable claims amid a global plastic crisis, especially considering only about 5% to 6% of plastic waste in the U.S. is actually recycled, and even items sent for recycling don’t always get recycled. Many items may still be sent to landfill or incinerated.
In addition to considering claims on recyclables, recyclability and renewables, the FTC’s review of the Green Guides may also take into account terms like net zero, carbon offsets and organic products, for which many environmental groups have campaigned the FTC to consider.
“Offsets-related deception happens in two ways. Sometimes companies deceptively market offsets to consumers striving to reduce their personal carbon footprints,” environmental groups wrote in a recent letter to the FTC. “More commonly, companies deceptively market products and services with claims of climate-friendliness that are linked, either explicitly or implicitly, to the company’s own purchase of offsets.”
The FTC’s Green Guides were first established in 1992 to prevent misleading environmental claims, by considering public perception of environmental marketing claims and whether companies can back their claims. The guides have previously been updated in 1996, 1998 and 2012.
The Green Guides have been referenced in many court cases against companies like Walmart, Kohl’s, Volkswagen Group of America and more.
The FTC is hosting a workshop, titled Talking Trash at the FTC: Recyclable Claims and the Green Guides, on May 23 to discuss recyclable claims on product packaging and public perception to further guide potential updates to the Green Guides. The public is also welcome to submit comments on the review by June 13 of this year.
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