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FTC sends warning letters about green certification seals

Federal Trade Commission Green Guides
Environmental seals and certifications can inadvertently deceive consumers by conveying more than a marketer intends. The FTC has warned several companies about seals that might not comply with its guidelines.

The Federal Trade Commission has sent warning letters to five providers of environmental certification seals and 32 businesses using those seals, out of concern that the seals could be considered deceptive and might not comply with the agency's environmental-marketing guidelines.

“Environmental seals and certifications matter to people who want to shop green,” said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “But if the seals’ claims are broader than the products’ benefits, they can deceive people. We are holding companies accountable for their green claims.”

It is often difficult for consumers to tell whether a product has the environmental attributes it touts. For example, consumers cannot reasonably confirm claims that a product is made from recycled materials when those materials look and perform the same as new materials. Environmental certification seals address this problem by assuring consumers they are getting the environmental benefit they want to buy.

However, these seals and certifications can inadvertently deceive consumers by conveying more than a marketer intends. To help marketers avoid this problem, the Commission issued advice in its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Guides, known as the Green Guides. Unqualified general environmental benefit claims such as “green” and “eco-friendly” convey a broad range of attributes, and almost no product could have them all. The Green Guides explain that claims should be properly qualified and provide examples of how to create a seal or certificate that avoids deceiving consumers.

The FTC’s new business blog post, Performing Seals, can help marketers understand how certification seals can comply with the Green Guides. It includes two sample certification seals to illustrate dos and don’ts that businesses should keep in mind.

At this time, no law enforcement actions are being taken, and the FTC is not disclosing the names of the companies it sent the letters.

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