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FTC plans new green marketing rules

Marketplace Staff Oct 8, 2010

FTC plans new green marketing rules

Marketplace Staff Oct 8, 2010


STEVE CHIOTAKIS: The Federal Trade Commission has decided
it wants to fight “green-washing.” What’s that? Well, earlier this week it proposed a new set of guidelines for when companies make their products seem a little greener than they really are. Marketplace sustainability reporter Adriene Hill is with us to talk about what the FTC proposes. Good morning Adriene.

ADRIENE HILL: Good morning, Steve.

CHIOTAKIS: So what’s the FTC trying to do here?

HILL: Well basically, up until now, there just haven’t been many rules or guidelines keeping companies from calling their products environmentally friendly or eco-friendly. And you’ve seen those labels. They’re everywhere. Basically the FTC is stepping in and establishing some new standards.

CHIOTAKIS: And what sort of things are we talking about here?

HILL: A lot of the changes will push marketers to make more specific claims that they’ll have to be able to back up. So no super general environmental claims, like green for example. If you’re going to say your product is made of renewable material, you’re going to need to be clear about what it is and what makes it renewable. If you’re going to say you can toss it into the compost, it’s got to break down at the same rate as the other things you’ve thrown in there.

CHIOTAKIS: It seems like pretty commonsense stuff?

HILL: For us. But we’re not the unscrupulous marketers the FTC is worried about.

CHIOTAKIS: No. And if the FTC busts those people for overstating their environmentally friendliness, what then?

HILL: Well the agency can take action if it finds a company is intentionally misleading consumers. It can make them stop, issue fines. And it’s done some of this already with the current guidelines. The agency brought a case against a couple companies, including K-Mart, for calling some paper products biodegradable. The reason is that most paper lands up in landfills or recycling facilities, where it’s not going to biodegrade.

CHIOTAKIS: And that’s interesting, more transparency, more honesty — I mean it sounds pretty good, right?

HILL: Yeah, for the most part it does. It’s hard for me or anyone to try and navigate the green claims that are on products everywhere. In part because they just don’t mean a lot. And this should help the words on the packaging mean what they say. One concern with the proposed rules is that in practice, they could be really complicated. If a product now has to list all the very specific ways it’s environmentally-friendly, it can be a lot to wade through when making a choice.

CHIOTAKIS: So then, Adriene, what’s next?

HILL: Well it’s comment time. The FTC is accepting comments on its rules through mid-December. And we’d love to hear from you [leave a comment below].

CHIOTAKIS: All right. Marketplace’s sustainability reporter Adriene Hill. Adriene, thanks.

HILL: Thank you.

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