The Green Police: FTC Eco-Friendly Standards Hard To Live Up To!

by Lisa Martin on October 15, 2010 · 6 comments

in FTC Allegations

Green marketing for products is at an all-time high.  According to David Mullen of the National Advertising Division at the Better Business Bureau, “Companies feel pressured to out green one another”.  The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) offers its “Green Guides” to help determine which products should be labeled “green” or “eco-friendly,” but recent revisions offered for these guides will change how many market their products (and not necessarily in a positive way).  Last updated in 1998, the new revisions to the Green Guides should result in less generalized claims and more fine print on packaging.  The question is – how accurate will this new fine print actually be?

Under the new proposals, products are no longer able to be labeled “green” or “eco-friendly”.  The claim will have to be linked to a specific benefit of the product (for example, bamboo being antimicrobial).  The term “degradable” can only be used if a product is capable of decomposing in a landfill within a year.  “Recyclable” may also be changed, because they have changed the definition of that too.  A product will not be considered recyclable if the facilities needed to recycle it aren’t widely available.  You may see products with the notice “recyclable only in the few communities that have recycling programs”.  The FTC also goes after the third party certifications and seals.  Marketers would have to disclose their relationships with a certifying organization.  Manufacturers will not be able to claim their product is made from renewable material  until they can show how much of the product is made from those materials, what those materials are, how they are sourced, and why they are considered renewable.  Additionally, manufacturers won’t be able to say that a product is made with renewable energy if any part of the product’s manufacturing involved fossil fuels. 

The FTC is taking comments on the proposed revisions for 60 days.  After that, they will issue their final guidelines during the first half of 2011.  At first glance, these revisions seem pretty innocent.  However, when you delve deeper into what the FTC has done in the past, these changes are worrisome. 

First, the FTC in the past stated that “rayon from bamboo” was the same as “traditional rayon” due to its similar processing.  They want you to believe that these companies were misrepresenting the fabric by calling it what it is:  bamboo or fiber from bamboo.  You also have the FTC’s consumer alert:  “There’s also no evidence that rayon made from bamboo retains the antimicrobial properties of the bamboo plant, as some sellers and manufacturers claim. Even when bamboo is the “plant source” used to create rayon, no traits of the original plant are left in the finished product.”  The issue?  Numerous studies have shown the exact opposite

Also, the problem is not that businesses are misrepresenting their biodegradable products. Landfills are a place that can literally host a head of lettuce for 5 years and a hot dog for 15 year as Dr. William Rathje has shown.  (He pioneered excavations on over 15 landfills throughout North America.)  You can read about several cases (not just about bamboo) about how the FTC oversteps into business.

Bamboo is THE most renewable, sustainable, pesticide free, herbicide free, water conserving (no need to water for harvesting) woody plant in the world!  However, if it is up the FTC, we won’t be able to tell you any of that!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Luke Schuette October 18, 2010 at 10:52 am

Lisa makes some great points. We as a company actually avoid the green washing words because they are, like Lisa said.. very over used. Lamboo, Inc has an initiative to use the most renewable resources to make highest performance products in the most efficient way. That is it. We, at this point don’t really need to be validated by sustainability third parties, because we are already using the most renewable resource available. I wish all companies had it this easy. We just focus on the performance and applications, of which are the most important to us.

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