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FTC Warns Marketers About Too-Broad Claims of Eco-Friendliness

The Federal Trade Commission issued revised "Green
Guides" guidelines on Monday, updating its advisory to marketers pitching
so-called "green" products.

Among the changes are cautions against making too broad
claims that a product is "environmentally friendly" or "ecofriendly."
That is because FTC studies have shown that consumers believe such claims
indicate "far-reaching environmental benefits" that few products
can deliver on, making such claims "nearly impossible to substantiate." Unsubstantiated
claims are within the FCC's false and deceptive advertising ambit.

The guides also advise against unqualified claims for
degradable products unless the entire product breaks down and "returns to
nature" within a year; caution that no such claims should be made for
anything headed for a  landfill, incinerator or recycling center because
they can't meet the one-year deadline; and "clarify" any claims about
composting, ozone impact or recycling in general.

Among other clarifications are that seals of approval and
certifications can be considered endorsements covered by rules that require
disclosure of any material connection between the marketer and the endorser.

The guides to not take a position on claims of
"sustainable," "natural," and "organic," either
because the FTC lacks a basis for guidance, the commission said, or as in the
case of "organic," because it is already covered by the USDA.

The guides provide general principles that apply to
environmental marketing claims, how consumers are likely to view the claims and
marketers can substantiate them, and how the claims should be qualified to
avoid deception.

To check out the new guidelines, including what the FTC
would consider overhyping a product deceiving consumers about benefits, go here.