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How green is "green?”

The Federal Trade Commission proposed this week an update to their "Green Guides," last touched in 1998.  "This is really about trying to cut through the confusion that consumers have when they are buying a product and that businesses have when they are selling a product," Jon Leibowitz, chairman of the FTC, told the New York Times.

Nail, meet head!  Sure, we all try to buy and live green, but does this mean we finally have someone on our side to make sure our “green” isn’t Soylent

See, here’s the thing.  A claim—even one backed by someone with teeth—can’t be viewed in isolation.  Take the Chevy Volt, proclaimed last fall to sport a 230 mpg EPA rating: your mileage may vary, but those testing it this week are finding that real-world driving puts it closer to 37 mpg. Thirty. Seven. (Jalopnik).  Heck, even the forthcoming Nissan Leaf, billed as the full-electric that could trigger mass adoption, can only make claims that go as far as the plug: electricity from Mesozoic-era plant matter doesn’t get reflected on any window stickers that I’ve seen (I’m looking at you, Boulder…).  And don’t get me started on Energy Star ratings—change your fridge door configuration and you’re in a new class! (NPR)

This all reminds me of a conversation with New Hope’s own Len Monheit about labels and logos.  He ran out of the conference room saying “you’ve got to see this!” and moments later returned with a document he received from NSF.  On it were, oh, I don’t know, about 200 distinct logos they’d found claiming GMP.  And that’s just one standard!  Now roll that out to the rest of the standards we’re familiar with, mix in the various conventional claims, then add a dash of the ridiculous (glass bottles that are miraculously now BPA-free, for example), and the FTC is going to need a bigger boat.

So where does that leave us as members of the community?  We need to stand up for standards.  We need to hold ourselves and others accountable for the claims that are made.  But maybe the most valuable thing that we can do is to remind people that a certain level of skepticism can be healthy, too.  Even with increased scrutiny, there’s a big world of product out there to review, and maybe the FTC just hasn’t gotten to the breast-enhancing gum yet…

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