The Federal Trade Commission ("FTC") has proposed revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, better known as the "Green Guides." The Guides provide guidance — they are not mandatory, although they are issued pursuant to Section 5(a) of the FTC Act and subject to enforcement actions — to companies that wish to market their products as "environmentally friendly" in some way. The guidance includes general principles applicable to all green claims, as well as specific guidance on certain claims. The revisions update guidance on claims already addressed in the Guides, as well as include guidance on claims not previously addressed. Comments on the proposed Green Guides are due December 10, 2010.
The Green Guides were first issued in 1992, in response to an explosion of green marketing. The Guides were subsequently revised in 1996 and 1998, but have not been revised since. In 2007, the FTC announced its intention to revise the Green Guides, and held a series of public workshops. Responding to stakeholder comments from these workshops and its own consumer perception study, the FTC has proposed Guides revising its general environmental claims, certifications and seals of approval, "degradable" claims, "compostable" claims, "ozone-safe/ozone-friendly" claims, "recyclable" claims, and "free-of/non-toxic" claims. This more specific guidance should make it easier for companies to follow the guidance while also eliminating bogus claims. The proposed Guides also provide guidance on the additional claims — "renewable energy," "renewable materials," and "carbon offsets" claims — which were not previously addressed. The revised guidance is more in line with the green marketplace of today. The FTC has summarized the proposed revisions here, and a more complete synopsis of the the revisions, prepared by Justin Prochnow of GT Denver, is available here.
The renewed interest in the Green Guides has also brought a significant increase in enforcement actions brought by the FTC since 2007. That trend should only continue with the release of the proposed revisions.