In today’s environmentally conscious world, consumers are increasingly drawn to products and services marketed as “green.” But with so many claims out there, how can you be sure they’re legitimate? This is where regulations like the Federal Trade Commission FTC Green Guides and the proposed EU Green Claims Directive come in. 

Understanding the FTC Green Guides 

The FTC Green Guides, first established by the Federal Trade Commission in the US in 1992, offer crucial guidance to businesses on making truthful and non-deceptive environmental claimsThe FTC has the authority to act against companies found to be misleading consumers through their green marketing efforts. It is therefore crucial that companies understand the rules that govern green claims and make efforts to follow them. 

The FTC Green Guides focus on three key areas: 

  • General Environmental Benefit Claims: These address broad statements like “eco-friendly” or “sustainable.” The FTC advises against using such claims without clear explanation and substantiation of the environmental benefit. 
  • Specific Claims: The Guides provide specific guidance on terms like “compostable,” “recyclable,” or “non-toxic.” Marketers must ensure these claims are accurate and verifiable based on accepted standards or testing.  
  • Qualifications and Disclosures: If a product has limitations on its environmental benefits, the FTC encourages clear and prominent disclosures to avoid misleading consumers. For example, if a product is compostable, the conditions should be specified on which type of composting (industrial vs home) and the specific methods used to verify compostability.   

By following the FTC Green Guides, businesses can ensure their marketing accurately reflects their environmental commitment and avoid potential legal issues. 

The FTC Green Guides were proposed for a revision in 2022 and public comment commenced on April 24th, 2023. An adopted revision is expected in 2024. This revision will update the current version of the Green Guides, which was last updated in 2012. The proposal includes updated definitions and consumer clarity around the following concepts:  

  • Recyclable  
  • Recycled content 
  • Carbon offsets and Climate Change 
  • Guidance on “Organic”, “Sustainable”, “Compostable”, “Degradable”, and “Ozone-friendly” 
  • Guidance on Energy Use and Energy Efficiency  

The EU Green Claims Directive

Across the Atlantic, the European Union has proposed a Green Claims Directive, which was published on March 22nd, 2023  Like the FTC Green Guides, this directive aims to prevent greenwashing by regulating environmental claims made in business-to-consumer commercial practices. In a 2020 study, the European Commission found that 53% of examined environmental claims in the EU were vague, misleading, or unfounded, and 40% were unsubstantiated. The goal of the directive is to help eliminate greenwashing in the EU and provide more clarity to consumers with specific rules.   

The proposal for a Green Claims Directive aims to emphasize the following:  

  • Transparency: Environmental claims must be clear, truthful, and direct, avoiding vagueness or ambiguity. 
  • Substantiation: Businesses must have scientific evidence to support their claims. This evidence should be based on the appropriate life cycle stage of the product.  
  • Comparability: Comparative claims, like “greener than the competition,” need a clear basis for comparison and shouldn’t mislead consumers. 
  • Hazardous Substances: The directive proposes that any products which contain hazardous substances are banned from being solicited with environmental claims unless those substances are considered essential. 

The Green Claims Directive would apply to all EU member states once enacted, ensuring a consistent standard for green marketing across Europe. The current Parliament voted on 12 March 2024 in favor of the proposal. However, further decisions on the proposal will be made by policymakers elected in the June 2024 European elections.  

Navigating the Green Marketing Landscape 

The FTC Green Guides and the proposal for an EU Green Claims Directive, while originating from different regions, share a common goal: fostering a marketplace with truthful and verifiable environmental claimsUnderstanding these regulations is crucial for businesses operating internationally or targeting either the US or EU markets. 

Here are some key takeaways for businesses: 

  • Avoid Broad Claims: Instead of vague statements like “eco-friendly,” focus on specific environmental benefits like “made with 50% recycled content”.  
  • Substantiate Your Claims: Have scientific evidence to back up your claims and be prepared to present it if challenged. When utilizing “non-toxic” claims, ensure that you have proof, such as through testing, that specific substances are below detectable concentrations using proven and accepted analytical methods.  
  • Be Transparent: Clearly disclose any limitations or qualifications associated with your environmental claims. If something is labeled as “Biodegradable”, disclose how long it takes the product to degrade in the specific medium under the exact testing conditions. 
  • Stay Informed: Both the FTC Green Guides and the proposed EU Green Claims Directive are subject to revision. Stay updated on any changes to ensure compliance. 

By following these guidelines, businesses can leverage the power of green marketing while building trust and credibility with environmentally conscious consumers.   

Our experts at H2 Compliance are here to help you navigate the complexity of Green Marketing claims in the US, EU and abroad. Get in touch to learn more about our services or visit our Product Stewardship page for more information.  

Published: April 19, 2024