United States Updates Rules for Green Marketing
Following three public hearings, a period for public comment on the proposed document that ended December 10, and 35 months of development, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission will publish a much anticipated update to its original Green Guides, first published in 1992. (The last update appeared in 1998.) The guides comprise a common sense set of rules defining required substantiation and disclaimers for the explosion of evolving green claims made by marketers. Like its predecessors, the new edition will represent a helpful, if low, bar, intended to eliminate outright misrepresentations and fabrications.
“The new guidelines [still] don’t really keep up with the world of sustainable business practices,” comments Joel Makower, executive editor of GreenBiz.com. Rather, they address a fraction of what companies are doing—the behind-the-scenes innovations that reduce use of water, energy and materials. While a step in the right direction, they have yet to provide, for example, guidance on reduced packaging or use of the words “sustainable” and “green.” Plus, they don’t yet address the potent eco-claims of cradle-to-cradle, biomimicry and green chemistry.
Makower observes that, instead of “greenwashing,” [making false claims or leveraging words like “natural” to intentionally mislead consumers], most companies today are engaging in random acts of greenness—tweaks to their products, facilities, policies or practices, rather than undergoing systemic change. While some are seriously changing their ways, for most companies and consumers, “going green,” notes Makower, means making a series of incremental changes that over time reduce their worst environmental impacts, while perhaps also garnering some PR points.