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FTC's Truth in Advertising: Green Guides

Instructor: Brianna Whiting

Brianna has a masters of education in educational leadership, a DBA business management, and a BS in animal science.

We have all witnessed a commercial advertising a product that is environmentally friendly, but how many of us understand what rules the company had to follow to make that claim? This lesson will introduce those rules known as the Green Guides.

A First Look at Green Guides

Meet Daisy! Daisy owns a company that sells cleaning products for your home. While everyone needs essential cleaning products to keep their homes clean, many of her clients do not like all of the harmful chemicals that some contain. They feel that the chemicals are not only toxic to their families but bad for the environment. Daisy wants to run a successful business, but she knows she can't do that if the products she provides are not wanted by her customers. It occurred to Daisy that maybe she should offer 'green' products. After all, who doesn't appreciate products that are safe and effective that do not harm the environment? Daisy decides to order some new products for her store, but before she can begin to advertise them, she needs to check out the Federal Trade Commission's Green Guide on Environmentally Friendly Products. Come along as she learns how to properly advertise her new line of products.

Federal Trade Commission

Before we go much further, it is important to explain what the Federal Trade Commission is, the Federal Trade Commission is a government agency that protects consumers from ads that are deceptive. This includes any ads that make claims about environmentally friendly products. The agency has jurisdiction to make sure companies are following the laws.

Green Guides

The FTC monitors ads that make claims about environmentally friendly products. They have guidelines that all advertisements must follow which are known as the Green Guides. Their purpose is to provide guidelines that companies must follow when making environmental claims. They explain how consumers may interpret claims, and how companies can make sure their claims are not deceiving to consumers. Daisy learns that the Green Guides refer to all claims about the actual product, the package, or the service in the advertisement. They also include any labels, materials, logos, descriptions, or any other advertising techniques.

Claims need to be clear and understandable in plain language and should specify what part of the product is environmentally friendly. For example, is it the package, or perhaps the product? The Green Guides also apply to all expressed claims, those that are actually stated, and implied claims, those that are suggested but not actually stated. And, all claims should be supported with proof or scientific research.

Key Points of the Green Guide

In order to create an ad that follows all of the guidelines outlined by the FTC, Daisy decides to take a look at the Green Guides. Here are some of the major components she found after locating them on the FTC's website.

1. Broad terms - When making claims, Daisy will need to avoid terms like 'eco-friendly' or 'green.' They are so broad that they are difficult to prove.

2. Degradable - If a product is able to decompose in one year, then Daisy can say it is degradable. If it takes longer, then she cannot use that claim. For example, if the container that one of her products comes in can decompose in nine months, Daisy can say it is degradable.

3. Recyclable - Daisy learns that she can only make a claim about being recyclable if the entire product or package is recyclable. Also, there needs to be facilities available to a majority of consumers where the product is being sold to use this term. An example might be a cleaning brush that Daisy sells. If it is 100% recyclable and the area in which she sells it has a large recycling facility for the entire community to use, she could advertise it as a recyclable product.

Daisy also learned that if any of her products contain recycled material, she has to indicate the exact percentage if it is not made from 100% recycled material. So, her new mop has to specify that it is made from 75% recycled material since the entire product is not made from recycled materials. If Daisy just stated that the new mop is made from recycled material, it would be considered deceptive because a consumer might think the entire product is made from recycled material.

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