After bringing recent enforcement actions against several companies for falsely advertising products as “100% bamboo fiber” when they were in fact made of rayon, the FTC sent out a warning to more than seventy-eight companies urging them to review their bamboo products and correct any misleading labeling. (Although rayon is created from the cellulose found in trees and plants, including bamboo, it is a man-made fiber that is processed with harsh chemicals and not considered to be environmentally friendly.) The FTC hopes that the warning letters will “serve as a wakeup call to all companies, regardless of their size.”, and the letters went to well known names as Bed, Bath & Beyond and Amazon.com.
The warning letters contain a synopsis of FTC decisions regarding the use of proper fiber names in textile labeling and advertising, and are intended to give companies time to take curative steps by removing or correcting any false or misleading bamboo references. If any of the letter recipients is later found to have mislabeled rayon products, the FTC can seek civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation. The warning letters, as well as the recent enforcement actions brought against companies selling rayon, highlight the FTC’s continuing commitment to prosecute misleading “green” advertising.
While the FTC is still working on revisions to its Green Guides, the Commission is struggling with the appropriate limits to place on marketers, so as not to allow them to convey to consumers a deceptive and overly broad message while touting benefits of a product for the environment. However, in its decisions regarding bamboo, the FTC made it clear it would be appropriate for companies to advertise “Rayon Made with Bamboo,” which truthfully conveys the fact that the manufacturers used bamboo to make the rayon but does not overstate the benefits of the product. Marketers should take a close look at any environmental claims being made about their products and make sure any limitations are clearly conveyed with appropriate disclaimers.