“Green” product claims not all they’re cracked up to be

BBB advises consumers do their own research on products claiming to be environmentally friendly


Earth Day is Sunday, a holiday created to encourage people to think about the environment and take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Marketers have picked up on that message with gusto, and consumers are bombarded daily with “green” cleaning products, building supplies, and just about anything else you can think of. But, BBB is advising consumers to look very closely at those claims and make sure they are getting what they’re paying for.

The Federal Trade Commission, in cooperation with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, has developed guidelines – called Green Guides – for advertisers to ensure that their environmental marketing claims don’t mislead consumers. While these guidelines are not enforceable as law, the FTC can take action if it deems a company’s marketing to be unfair or deceptive.

Under the Green Guides, a company can no longer label a product as “green” or “eco-friendly” to imply general environmental benefits. The claim must be linked to a specific product benefit.

For example, a product could be touted as degradable only if it breaks down within a year. The old guidelines allowed that claim if the product broke down in a “reasonably short period,” but didn’t define the period. Products advertised as compostable have to break down as fast as the materials they are composted with, such as plants and other organic materials that consumers might put in a backyard compost bin.

In addition, the guides caution marketers not to use unqualified certifications or seals of approval that do not specify the basis for the certification. All qualifications marketers apply to certifications or seals should be clear, prominent and specific.

BBB encourages you to check out any and all products, services and marketers making “green” claims before spending your green:

Do your research. Take the time to research a product and the manufacturer to find more information about the product and its greenness.

Be cautious of fluffy language or concrete claims. “Fuzzy claims” such as “environmentally friendly” or “100 percent natural” without solid examples to back up the claim can be misleading. Look for specific information and substantiation of all claims.

Confirm certifications. Companies can create a logo to intentionally look like it’s a third party certification for their environmental claims. Research any third-party carefully before accepting its “stamp of approval.”

Know where to turn if you have questions. Visit the FTC Environmental Marketing Claims Guidelines for more information on green products and green advertising. If you believe a business is engaged in deceptive advertising file a complaint with your BBB and the FTC.

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