New Hope 360 Blog

Will the FTC crack down on green marketing claims?

Eco? Recyclable? Degradable? Sounds good. Maybe too good if you ask the Federal Trade Commission.

Although 85 percent of consumers are regularly buying sustainable food and drink products, they don’t necessarily know what these label claims actually mean, according to market research firm Mintel.

“Packaging claims such as ‘recyclable’ or ‘eco-‘ or ‘environmentally friendly’ are fairly well known to consumers, but sustainable product claims such as ‘solar/wind energy usage’ or ‘Fair Trade’ have yet to enter the mainstream consumer consciousness,” said David Browne, senior analyst at Mintel, in a release. “They may have heard of the terms, but they’d be hard-pressed to define them.”

I find it curious that the consumers Mintel surveyed would be confident of their understanding of “eco-friendly” and “environmentally friendly.” Not even the FTC, which oversees product advertising, knows what they mean. The FTC recently reported that consumers tend to think that products with these claims have “specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.”

The FTC’s advice: Don’t use these claims.

But … but products with these claims apparently sell, making them all-too tempting to slap on a product and watch the product fly off the shelf.

So will manufacturers heed the FTC’s advice? I doubt it—unless the FTC bans the use of these claims. (Look at the case of “natural,” which has virtually no regulated meaning, yet seems to appeal to consumers more than “organic,” which is strictly regulated and actually does represent specific attributes. When the Shelton Group, a Knoxville, Tenn.-based advertising agency, surveyed consumers, 31 percent chose “100 percent natural” compared to only 14 percent who chose “100 percent organic.”)

Will the FTC take the hard line on “eco-friendly” and “environmentally friendly” claims?

You can help decide. The FTC is asking for input on these and other green marketing claims, including “degradable,” “compostable,” or “free of” a particular substance, until December 10, 2010. Share what you think with the FTC and below.

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