FTC Issues Request for Comment to Update Green Guides on Environmental Marketing Claims
The FTC voted 4-0 on December 14 to publish a notice in the Federal Register seeking comments on an update to the FTC’s “Green Guides” on environmental marketing claims. The Guides, which have not been updated since 2012, provide guidance to businesses about how the FTC interprets environmental marketing claims under Section 5 of the FTC Act, including how consumers are likely to perceive specific claims, how businesses can substantiate these claims, and how businesses should qualify certain claims to ensure they are not deceptive.
The Green Guides were first issued in 1992 and were revised in 1996, 1998, and 2012. Since then, consumer demand for environmentally friendly products has continued to grow. Marketers have responded with a variety of claims that are not clearly addressed by the FTC’s existing guidance, such as claims concerning “net zero” emissions and other more general claims about sustainability, climate change, renewable energy, and energy efficiency.
While the Green Guides are principally aimed at claims made to consumers, the current FTC has liberally construed “consumers” to include a variety of business-to-business marketing claims, including claims made by upstream market participants that ultimately reach consumers and small businesses. As such, businesses without a direct-to-consumer footprint but which nonetheless make environmental marketing claims should consider how revised FTC guidance could affect their compliance obligations.
Specific issues on which the FTC requests comment include:
- Carbon Offsets and Climate Change: The FTC is seeking additional information on whether it should revise its existing guidance on carbon offsets and address other issues, such as how consumers perceive a variety of climate change claims like “net zero,” “carbon neutral,” “low carbon,” or “carbon negative.”
- Energy Use and Efficiency: The FTC has asked whether to include guidance on energy use or efficiency claims for home-related products, electric vehicles, and “other products.”
- Organic and Sustainable: In 2012, the FTC determined it lacked a basis to give specific guidance on how consumers interpret “organic” and “sustainable” claims and now seeks information as to whether to revisit that determination. The FTC requests evidence about consumer understanding of these terms and what constitutes a reasonable basis to support an “organic” or “sustainable” claim.
- Ozone-Safe/Ozone Friendly: The FTC asks whether to revise its guidance on “ozone-friendly” claims now that certain ozone-depleting chemicals have been banned by the EPA.
- Degradable: The current Guides allow “degradable” claims based on product decomposition within one year.The FTC asks whether it should now provide an alternative timeframe for various categories of products (such as liquids).
- Recyclable: Among various issues, the FTC asks whether marketers should qualify “recyclable” claims for items collected by recycling programs but ultimately not recycled due to market demand, budgetary constraints, or other reasons.
- Recycled Content: The FTC is seeking comment on various issues around “recycled content” claims, including whether the FTC should provide additional guidance on when marketers may make such claims, how such claims may be substantiated, and whether the FTC should change its guidance about pre-consumer or post-industrial claims.
Additionally, the FTC is seeking comment on whether it should consider a rulemaking to codify some or all of its guidance on environmental marketing claims.
The agency will receive comments for 60 days once the notice is published in the Federal Register.
Baker Botts attorneys can help you assess your environmental marketing claims or submit stakeholder comments on these issues. If you have questions about the Green Guides, or other consumer protection issues, please contact Maureen Ohlhausen or Ben Rossen.
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