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Greenwashers Beware

Greenwashers Beware

"We encourage the FTC not to take any action that would stifle the ability or the interest of a company to make positive steps in improving the environment or that would restrict a company’s ability to market and communicate its activities in this area."
-From a joint filing of four American Ad industry trade groups

February 14, 2008 —

The phenomenon known as "greenwashing" has plagued the ethical products markets for years, whether it be regular products calling themselves "all natural" or corporations pretending that minor environmental improvements in their operations were somehow revolutionary blessings to mother nature. But in both the United States and Europe, consumers and government regulators are growing weary of the disturbing trends in green oriented advertising. Using lush environmental scenes and taglines like "I guess it is easy being green" to sell SUVs that get 5 more miles per gallon may be a boon to advertisers and car companies, but it's only a matter of time before a backlash develops either against green products in general, or the disingenuous strategies used to sell them.

The Federal Trade Commission is exploring ways to hold companies accountable for misleading green marketing, following the lead of regulators in Europe who have already implemented a variety of rules. Predictably, advertising trade groups are fighting any increased regulation, citing already existing laws that prohibit misleading advertising. But the existing laws are rarely enforced, and advertisers figured out a long time ago how to suggest that a product has certain advantages without making any legally binding claims.

Among the measures the FTC is considering are "general principles for all environmental marketing claims... such as degradabilty, compostability, recyclability, recycled content, and ozone safety." The FTC is also considering placing restrictions on claims about "sustainability" and "renewability," as well as a regulatory framework for carbon offsetting.

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