General Environmental Benefits Claims
Given the revised Green Guides’ emphasis on careful qualification of environmental claims to avoid misinterpretations by reasonable consumers, it is not surprising that the revised Green Guides warn advertisers not to make unqualified general environmental benefits claims (e.g., claims that a product is “environmentally friendly”). According to the FTC, such claims “are difficult to interpret and likely convey a wide range of meanings,” making it “highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate all reasonable interpretations,” a concern that was also reflected in the old guidance.
To avoid deception, general environmental benefits claims should be qualified with clear, prominent language limiting the claim to a specific benefit or benefits. For instance, if your product complies with the revised Green Guides’ sections on recycled content claims, say the product is “eco-friendly: made with recycled materials,” instead of just advertising your product as “eco-friendly.”This section of the revised Green Guides also notes that it may be deceptive to imply that any specific environmental benefit is significant when it is actually negligible, and further provides that improper general environmental benefits claims may be implied through the use of images combined with text. In the revised Green Guides, the FTC has provided a new example of how this may occur, stating that it would be deceptive to market a printer with the phrase “Buy our printer. Make a change,” if that text was accompanied by the image of the printer “in a bird’s nest balancing on a tree branch, surrounded by a dense forest.” According to the FTC, that image could imply that the product has no negative environmental impact, and thus would be deceptive unless that were the case.
Certifications and Seals of ApprovalThe revised Green Guides also include a new section on the use of certifications and seals of approval, previously addressed only by way of example. The revised Green Guides, largely in keeping with the 2010 proposed revisions, caution that use of an environmental seal or certification that does not communicate its basis to consumers likely conveys a general environmental benefit claim, which should be qualified with clear and prominent language explaining the specific environmentally-friendly quality on which the seal or certification is based. For example, under the revised Green Guides, use of a seal merely stating “EarthSmart” would likely convey that a product has far reaching environmental benefits. If such claims cannot be substantiated, the seal should be qualified by stating, for example, “EarthSmart certifies that this product meets EarthSmart standards for reduced chemical emissions during product usage.”
The revised Green Guides also note that unqualified certifications and seals may deceptively imply that the certifier has applied independently developed standards in evaluating a product. If this is not the case, the seal or certification should be qualified. For instance, if a manufacturer self-certifies its product, the environmental certification should be accompanied by clear language to that effect.
Finally, the revised Green Guides warn that the use of a third-party certifier’s name, logo, or seal of approval may be an endorsement covered by the FTC’s Endorsement Guides, which advises that, among other things, advertisers must disclose any connections with the third-party endorser that could affect an endorsement’s weight or credibility. Accordingly, advertisers should consider both sets of guidance when using a certification or seal of approval.
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This is our final post in the Green Guides series, and we hope that you have found them helpful and informative. As we have noted throughout this series, the FTC advises that advertisers should carefully craft green claims to avoid consumer misconceptions, and should also be mindful of how the overall context of product packaging or advertisements may influence consumers’ understanding of a green claim.
- Matthew Shultz and Joanna Persio