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FTC proposes new rules for 'green' marketing

By Eileen AJ Connelly
Associated Press
Thursday, October 7, 2010; A6

Aiming to clear up consumer confusion about "eco-friendly" products, the Federal Trade Commission has revised its guidelines for businesses that make environmental claims in advertisements.

The proposed new version of the agency's Green Guides was released Wednesday, with recommendations for when to use words like "degradable" and "carbon offset," in advertisements and packaging, and warnings about using certifications and seals of approval that send misleading messages.

"In recent years, businesses have increasingly used 'green' marketing to capture consumers' attention," FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. "But what companies think green claims mean and what consumers really understand are sometimes two different things."

The last update to the Green Guides was in 1998, so the existing guidelines don't address environmental claims that are common today, such as "renewable materials" or "renewable energy." The proposed update says companies should provide specifics about the materials and energy used in manufacturing, to make sure customers aren't confused.

The agency noted that consumers can also be misled by generic terms such as "environmentally friendly," which are often interpreted to mean the product has specific environmental benefits. The new guide cautions against making claims with such terms.

The new Green Guides generally advise companies that they will need "competent and reliable scientific evidence" for their claims. While the Green Guides are not enforceable as law, the FTC can take action if it deems a company's marketing unfair or deceptive.

The proposed guidelines were put together after a lengthy process that included public workshops and surveys, but consumers have another chance to submit comments through Dec. 10.

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