With the arrival of Earth Day on Wednesday, consumers may be in the mood to put environmental concerns foremost in their minds.
Certainly marketers are continuing to make lots of claims about their products and businesses being green. The term “green washing” has been coined to describe the practice by some companies of making environmental claims that are more style than substance.
The Better Business Bureau has added environmental claims to its list of scrutinized advertising practices in its BBB Code of Advertising. The code consists of 38 specific sections, all of which advertisers are expected to adhere to.
Ethical and truthful advertising is necessary in order for consumers to make sound decisions about the products and services they are considering purchasing. With the recent addition of environmental claims to the code, the hope is that consumers can take such claims more seriously in the marketplace.
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Businesses are asked to avoid unqualified “green” and “eco-friendly” advertising tactics. Instead, they should only make such claims when they can substantiate them with reliable, competent scientific data.
Do an Internet search for “BBB Code of Advertising” to read the specific stipulations of the code.
FTC Green Guides
The Federal Trade Commission, the government agency charged with protecting American consumers, revised its Green Guides in 2012. The Guides are designed to help marketers avoid making environmental claims that are unfair or deceptive.
Those revisions were made after the FTC discovered that consumers often interpret “eco-friendly” claims as being a lot greater than a product’s actual attributes.
The FTC’s Green Guides stipulate that:
▪ The claims “eco-friendly” and “environmentally safe” are meaninglessly vague and should be avoided because of the difficulty substantiating them.
▪ “Free-of” claims must mean what they say. Only trace amounts of the specified ingredients are allowed.
▪ Degradability claims are allowed only if the entire product will completely break down within one year after disposal.
▪ Seals of approval and certification should come with a disclosure of any connection between the manufacturer and the certifying organization.
▪ Renewable energy claims should specify the energy source, such as solar or wind.
▪ There should be clear and prominent qualification of renewable materials claims.
▪ Evidence must be provided for compostable material claims.
▪ Non-toxicity can only be claimed if the product is safe for both humans and the environment.
▪ Claims that a product is recycled should include the percentage and whether the package is included in the claim.
The FTC has said to marketers: “If you are not sure you have scientific support for your green claims, don’t make them in the first place. It’s that simple.”
BBB tips to help you evaluate “green” claims
Here are some things to remember as you consider products that are using environmentalism in their marketing:
▪ Watch for vague or unclear terms that may be hard to qualify. Look carefully to determine whether the business is backing up its ad claims with proof.
▪ Research on your own. Use the Internet to check on product and service claims. Compare to see whether competitors make similar claims.
▪ There is no magic “green” initiative that will save the planet.
▪ Check out the business on bbb.org and read the FTC’s “Shopping Green” page on its website.
Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau of Kansas. Contact the bureau at 800-856-2417 or bbbinc.org.