Are the FTC Guidelines Killing Green Marketing?

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission released its long-pending revisions to its green marketing guidelines. Commonly known as the Green Guides, these guidelines regulate how marketers may promote the environmental benefits of their products and services.

The revised Green Guides offer new guidance on several topics, including renewable energy, renewable materials and carbon credits. However, the most game-changing aspect of the revised Green Guides is that they now expressly prohibit marketers from making “general environmental benefit claims.” These include statements such as “green,” “eco-friendly” and “environmentally sound,” which all imply that a product or service is good for the environment without making clear exactly why or how.

Based on research indicating that consumers are easily misled by such language, the FTC states that unqualified general green claims are no longer acceptable, whether marketing to consumers or B2B.

Furthermore, a statement doesn’t have to be clearly articulated to count as a general green claim. The guidelines apply to “all…forms of marketing in any medium, whether asserted directly or by implication, through words, symbols, logos, depictions, product brand names, or any other means.”

This is huge.

Why? Because so many of us have incorporated environmental benefit claims into our branding.

Just think about some of the major companies who have done so. Clorox, with their “Green Works” line of cleaning products. Kimberly-Clark's Scott Naturals. Seventh Generation.

These companies, and countless others both large and small, have built environmental messaging right into their identities, or into the identities of certain of their products.

What will happen to brands like these under the new FTC guidelines?  What are they supposed to do? Is it safer to stop talking about green benefits altogether? Is this the end of green marketing?

Next page: The Green Guides as customer feedback