Like everything else these days, “green” claims have hit packaging in a big way. The emergence of new claims, such as “renewable” and “sustainable,” and claims about carbon offsets and renewable energy are all the rage now. They’re being pushed by product manufacturers, as well as by major retailers.

The principle guidance governing the legality of such claims is the Federal Trade Commission’s so-called “Green Guides,” officially the “Guides for the Use of Enviro­nmental Marketing Claims.” These guides were published in 1992 and last revised in 1998, before concepts like “global warming” became campaign issues.

Accordingly, the FTC has announced that it will hold a series of workshops and accept comments on a variety of environmental marketing issues. Included in this activity is a request for comments on the Green Guides.

The Guides address general environmental benefit claims, such as degradable, compostable, recyclable, source reduced, ozone friendly and recycled content. The Guides provide examples of how to qualify claims so as to avoid being misleading or deceptive.

However, to some extent, the Guides are woefully out of date. As FTC admits, they don’t cover claims related to sustainability, renewable energy and carbon offsets, among others.

The FTC is soliciting comments on several issues, including:
  • whether modifications should be made to the Guides,  
  • the impacts and costs of the Guides,  
  • whether new claims should be addressed,  
  • whether guidance on certain claims is no longer needed,  
  • the extent of industry compliance and  
  • technology or economic changes that should be considered.
It also specifically asks if there are international laws, regulations or standards that the FTC should consider, including ISO 14021.

With respect to possible new claims, like renewable and sustainable, the FTC asks for evidence as to what the terms mean, how consumers understand them and what the Guides would/could do. According to the FTC, “science and technology in the environmental area are constantly changing and new developments might affect consumer perception. Thus, the Commission solicits specific consumer survey evidence and consumer perception data addressing environmental claims, including claims not currently covered by the Guides.”

With respect to recycled content claims, it asks if recycled content should be revised to consider alternatives to the current approach for calculating recycled content.

With respect to degradability claims, the FTC asks if the Guides should be revised to more specifically address the timeframes in which products must break down and return to nature.

The FTC’s proceedings will likely be the start of a longer dialogue on an extraordinarily complex issue critical to both businesses and consumers. Comments are certainly encouraged.

The initial comment period on the Green Guides will be open until Feb. 11, 2008. For more information about the general guideline review, contact Janice Podoll Frankle at (202) 326-3022 or Laura Koss at (202) 326-2890. Or visit www.ftc.gov or www.ftc.gov/os/2007/11/P954501ggfrn.pdf