Companies making vague and poorly supported environmental claims are about to get a smackdown from the Federal Trade Commission’s upcoming revised Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (aka Green Guides), according to Victor Bell of Environmental Packaging International, which has been giving the agency feedback on the long-awaited revision. That is, if the guidelines are enforced—and Bell believes they will be.
Bell’s presentation at the recent Sustainable Packaging Forum conference in Atlanta caused a stir—many in the audience seemed taken aback by the draft guidelines’ stringency (and possibly by Bell’s delightfully vehement presentation of them). For example, Bell said, a brand name like Eco‐Safe would be considered deceptive if it leads consumers to believe that the product or package has environmental benefits that the manufacturer can’t substantiate. A wrapper labeled “environmentally friendly” because it wasn’t bleached with chlorine would be considered deceptive if production of the wrapper created other harmful substances. And claims that packaging is recyclable will be considered deceptive unless they’re recyclable in at least 60 percent of U.S. communities.
I preceded Bell on stage with a presentation on the Thinkshift Credibility Quotient—the public debut of the official version of our system for measuring the credibility of any communication. I was happy to see that the criteria we’re using line up neatly with the FTC’s draft guidelines. (Bell told me later that he thought I was saying essentially the same thing; I was just nicer about it. Maybe I shouldn’t have been!)
I see credibility questions popping up more and more—and I think companies that believe they can continue forever to make grandiose, unsupported claims are in for an unpleasant surprise.