Today we welcomed long-awaited revisions to the Federal Trade Commission’s green advertising guidelines but warned the government not to expect meek compliance from advertisers.
The FTC is trying to help advertisers and consumers navigate the wilds of green advertising, but marketers throw about environmental claims with abandon, and I don’t expect them to stop. That’s why we created the Greenwashing Index to help consumers sort through true and false green ads. Due to the global environmental challenges we face, the FTC must come down quickly and forcefully on advertisers who lie.
On Wednesday, the FTC updated its Green Guides on marketers’ use of product certifications and seals of approval, “renewable energy” claims, “renewable materials” claims, and “carbon offset” claims.
The good news is this could be the end of nonsensical claims like “clean coal.” The bad news is the new FTC Green Guides do not address more complicated terms like “sustainable.”
The Greenwashing Index has led the fight against false green advertising. GreenwashingIndex.com allows consumers to call out misleading green ads and showcase honest ones. EnviroMedia Social Marketing, in partnership with the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication, developed the site to help consumers tell truth from lies in green advertising. The Greenwashing Index is based on five educational criteria developed by Professors Morrison and Sheehan at the University of Oregon.
EnviroMedia Social Marketing participated in each of the FTC’s public workshops in 2008, and submitted written comments to the commission. In fact, some of our comments were referenced in today’s draft proposal, which we “…suggested that the Guides recommend that package labeling include a website, telephone number, or address so that consumers can obtain a detailed explanation of a product’s environmental attributes.” (page 22)
An ad on the Greenwashing Index can be rated anywhere on a scale of one to five: “Authentic-1” to “Suspect-3” to a whopping “Bogus-5.” Since the site launched in 2007, nearly 300 ads have been posted, but not all of them have received negative ratings. The site shows consumers what to look for when rating ads.
In 2009, EnviroMedia researched what motivates people to buy so-called green products and found:
- About one in three consumers say they don’t know how to tell if green product claims are true.
- One in 10 consumers blindly trusts green product claims.
- Consumers are verifying green claims by reading the packaging (24%) and turning to research (going online, reading studies; 17%).
The FTC is seeking public comment on the proposed Green Guides changes until December 10, after which it will decide which changes to make final. The FTC is welcoming public comment on the new Green Guides now through December 10, 2010, and we are certain to participate.
FTC Green Guides enforcement can’t happen quickly enough. Meanwhile, consumers should only buy products that make verifiable environmental claims.