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A guide to asserting your green credentials

Companies that want to make claims about the environmental attributes of their products now have a new guide to getting it right from the FTC, the US competition and consumer watchdog

The Federal Trade Commission has issued revised versions of its so-called green guides to help marketing specialists avoid making spurious claims about their companies’ products.

“The introduction of environmentally friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. “But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated.”

The rising number of companies making claims about the environmentally-friendly claims of their products has made it a hot topic for marketing specialists and for the IP lawyers who advise them. Two years ago INTA hosted a session on green marketing at its Annual Meeting.

But companies that adopt this marketing tactic run the risk of being accused of greenwashing if they cannot substantiate their statements.

To avoid that charge, the updated guides caution marketers not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly”. That’s because a consumer perception study carried out for the FTC reveals that these kinds of claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits.

They also contain a new section on certifications and seals of approval. These set out how marketers could disclose a so-called material connection that might affect the weight or credibility of an endorsement. The FTC also discourages the use of environmental certifications or seals that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification, because such seals or certifications are likely to convey general environmental benefits.

Although the Green Guides are not agency rules or regulations, they describe the types of environmental claims the FTC might find deceptive, which could ultimately lead to a Commission ban on the advertising.

Managing IP has published an IP clinic on using certification marks offered by certifying organisations. You can read advice from the Soil Association, the CEO of a fair trade coffee company and a lawyer who advises businesses who want to certify their products.

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