The FTC Green Guides: What you need to know

We’ve been asked a few times for our point of view on the new FTC Green Guides, and it essentially boils down to this: We’re thrilled that the FTC is working to make claims clearer for consumers (we see a tremendous amount of confusion in our studies about certain terms and claims), and we hope the FTC will go a bit further in the future. For instance, we’d love to see them tackle the term “natural,” given the amount of consumer confusion we see about that.

As for what’s on tap in the new guidelines, you can see the full version of the FTC Green Guides by clicking this link, but here are some key points:

  • General Claims: Terms like “green” or “eco-friendly” are deemed too broad and difficult to substantiate. Avoid them.
  • Certifications/Seals of Approval: You’ll need to specify if the certifications on your products are from an industry trade group, and you’ll have to substantiate any claims that come with the certification.
  • Degradable: You can only say a product is degradable if it can completely decompose in one year.
  • Compostable: To be called compostable, your product must break down in “approximately the same time as the materials with which it is composted” – and no toxins can be released in the process. You must also clearly indicate the limited extent of composting programs available.
  • Recyclable: Recycling claims can only be made if the entire product or package is recyclable and recycling facilities are available to a substantial majority (e.g., 60 percent) of residents in the communities where the product is sold. Otherwise, you must qualify recyclable claims based on the percentage of consumers or communities that have access to recycling facilities.
  • Recycled Content: You must indicate the specific percentage of recycled materials in the product if it is less than 100 percent.
  • Renewable Energy: Unless a product is made with 100 percent renewable energy, you will have to calculate and provide the percentage. Additionally, if your company produces renewable energy but sells its renewable energy credits (RECs), you cannot say you use renewable energy in the production process.
  • Carbon Offsets: You will need scientific evidence to support carbon offset claims, but don’t advertise them if carbon offsets are required by law for your business. You should also disclose if the emission reductions that are being offset by a consumer’s purchase will not occur within two years.
  • Renewable Materials: Some consumers may misinterpret renewable materials to mean a product was made with recycled content, is recyclable, and/or is biodegradable, so you should provide specific information about what the renewable materials are, how it fits the definition of renewable, and its sourcing. An example of an acceptable claim would be, “Made from 100 percent rapidly renewable bamboo grown in China.”

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