FTC Cracks Down On Greenwashing

Photo: Viridity.com
Photo: Viridity.com

The Federal Trade Commission is updating its environmental marketing guidelines for the first time since 1998 and is expected to give them teeth.

According to the New York Times:

The agency’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or Green Guides, define terms such as “recyclable” and “biodegradable” and explain how businesses should back up environmental assertions. Though FTC cannot force businesses to adopt greener practices, Section 5 of the FTC Act authorizes the agency to intervene when businesses are misrepresenting their practices to clients — in other words, turning greenwashing into fraud.

FTC did not use those guidelines to file any complaints regarding environmental claims during the administration of President George W. Bush, but it has filed seven since Obama took office.

David Vladeck, director of FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, told the Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection last summer that tougher enforcement and environmental guidelines are a major part of the commission’s agenda.

Additionally, 78 companies received FTC letters warning that they may be breaking the law by selling clothing and other products labeled and advertised as "bamboo," but are actually made of manufactured rayon fiber.

"We need to make sure companies use proper labeling and advertising in their efforts to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers," said David C. Vladeck, director of the agency's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Rayon is rayon, even if bamboo has been used somewhere along the line in the manufacturing process."

Industry companies that received the letter include Backcountry.com, Zappos.com, REI, and GreenLoop.

According to the FTC:

The FTC has a publication designed to help businesses that sell clothing and textile products that are labeled as bamboo to market their products in ways that are truthful, non-deceptive, and in compliance with the law. "Avoid Bamboo-zling Your Customers" can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bamboo. The FTC also has an alert entitled "Have You Been Bamboozled by Bamboo Fabrics?" that provides useful information for consumers shopping for bamboo-based fabrics. It also can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bamboo.

The Commission vote to publicly disclose the warning letters was 4-0. Copies of the letters and a complete list of companies that received them can be found on the FTC's Web site at http://www.ftc.gov/bamboo and as a link to this press release.