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FTC Warns Companies on Green Certification Seals

Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The Federal Trade Commission recently warned five providers of environmental certification seals and 32 businesses using those seals that these seals could be considered deceptive and may not comply with the FTC’s environmental marketing guidelines. No law enforcement actions are being taken at this time and the FTC is not disclosing the names of the companies to which it sent the warning letters. However, the FTC has brought several actions in recent years related to deceptive recyclability, biodegradable, bamboo and environmental certification claims as part of its overall effort to ensure that environmental marketing is truthful and substantiated. 

According to an FTC press release, environmental certification seals assure consumers that a product does in fact have the environmental attributes it purports to have. However, the FTC adds, these seals and certifications can inadvertently deceive consumers by conveying more than a marketer intends.

To help avoid this problem, the FTC’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing (commonly known as the Green Guides) advise against unqualified general environmental benefit claims such as “green” and “eco-friendly,” noting that such claims can convey a broad range of attributes and that it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate all of them. Instead, the Green Guides explain that a green seal or certification should include qualifying language limiting the claim to specific benefits (e.g., “biodegradable” or “recyclable”). The Green Guides also provide examples of how to create a seal or certificate that avoids deceiving consumers.

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