With the slew of products and methods claiming to be "green" in the market, small businesses looking to be environmentally conscious face an uphill battle determining what is creditable and what is just "green washing."
The Federal Trade Commission is trying to solve that with its proposed green guidelines put out earlier this month.
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Store shelves are flooded with products that say "recyclable" on the packaging, with little information as to what exactly is recyclable.
The FTC is now recommending companies state clearly on the package what is recyclable or detail the environmental benefits.
Take a box of aluminum foil. If the foil is labeled recyclable without more information, the claim should be considered deceptive unless it states clearly what part of the product, the foil or the box, is recyclable.
If a soft drink bottle is labeled recyclable and the only part that can’t is the cap, than that claim would be considered true. The whole idea is for the claim to cover the majority of the product.
Overstating the Benefits
If you are going to make bold claims about the environmental benefits of your product, you better be ready to back them up.
“An environmental marketing claim should not be presented in a manner that overstated the environmental attribute or benefit, expressively or by implication,” the FTC writes in its guidelines.
So if a package claims to be "50% more recycled content than before," while the manufacture may have increased the recycled content from 2% to 3%--it is a deceptive claim because it implies that there has been a significant increase in the recycled material.
General Overstatements of Environmental Benefits
Just like during the dot.com boom, when just about every company slapped a .com to the end of their name, a slew of companies are adding an "eco-friendly" tilt to their moniker. And the FTC doesn't like it.
The regulator said general claims of environmental benefits are hard to interpret and could convey a wide range of meanings to consumers.
Biodegradable or Not
Nobody likes to buy a product that’s going to sit in a landfill for hundreds of years so many companies claim their products are degradable or biodegradable.
But a claim is just that until there’s scientific data backing it.
According to the FTC, any product or package that claims to be degradable without scientific data should be considered deceptive. And it’s not enough to simply offer proof that it can be degradable, the rate and extend of the degradation needs to be disclosed. So if a garbage maker claims its bags are biodegradable, but there’s no information to back it up, consider the claim to be untrue, according to the FTC.
Since the guidelines by the FTC are not enforceable and are just recommendations, it is still the job of the consumer, in this case the small business owner, to determine if a product appears to be green. Following the recommendations by the FTC will make it easier to spot a green washer.