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Common sense rules to follow FTC's Green Guides

For the most part, the Federal Trade Commission’s Green Guides, including their recent “Revisions,” simply apply traditional consumer protection principles to environmental marketing claims.

Essentially, the FTC takes a holistic approach toward determining whether a claim is deceptive or misleading, taking into account the context in which the claim was made, the effect it has on consumer decision-making processes, and any documentable support for the claim.

The Green Guides do, however, provide some specific guidance on the appropriateness of various environmental marketing claims. Here’s a useful list of key things to avoid in making green claims.

• Don’t make broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims, such as stating that your product or packaging is “green” or “eco-friendly.”
• Don’t highlight minor or unimportant benefits.
• Don’t use certifications or “seals of approval” that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification.
• Don’t claim that a product is “free of” a substance if the product includes another substance that poses a similar environmental risk.
• Don’t claim that a product is “free of” a substance if that substance never has been associated with that product or category.
• Don’t claim that a product is ozone-friendly or safe for the ozone layer or atmosphere.
• Don’t make unqualified renewable energy claims based on energy derived from fossil fuels, unless you purchase Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) to match the energy use.
• Don’t make an unqualified “made with renewable energy” claim unless almost all of the manufacturing involved was powered with energy matched by RECs.
• Don’t claim you are using renewable energy if you sell RECs for all the renewable energy you generate
• Don’t make an unqualified claim about renewable material unless you clearly identify the material being used and explain why it is renewable.
• Don’t make a claim concerning recycled content unless the material has been recovered during the manufacturing process or after consumer use.
• Don’t make unqualified recycled material claims if the product or package is only made partly from recycled material.

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