Consumers deserve and are entitled to accurate information about the products they are purchasing.
It’s for this reason that Elizabeth Scott says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is very serious about protecting customers from misleading and deceptive environmental claims with its specific guidelines for environmental marketing.
More commonly known as the “Green Guides,” the federal agency’s Guides for Environmental Marketing are designed to prevent manufacturers from misrepresenting the “green” properties of their products, including glass, doors and windows. Because so many consumers rely on manufacturer representations of their products and are not in a position to validate those claims, the government’s involvement is a necessary one, says Scott, a staff attorney for the FTC’s Midwest region.
“Consumers decide how to spend their money based on the information that is available to them,” she says. “Misleading and deceptive statements about a product’s green properties influence those purchasing decisions in an unfair and unlawful way.”
The FTC, Scott notes, does not make environmental policy nor does it either encourage or discourage environmentally-friendly strategies to manufacturers. However, it has become clear that, as environmental awareness increases, consumers will be more likely to seek out products that leave a lower environmental footprint.
That mandates keeping manufactures completely honest about their products and any claims they make about them. Independent, third-party certifications are just some ways suggested to verify environmental claims.
“The introduction of environmentally-friendly products into the marketplace is a win for consumers who want to purchase greener products and producers who want to sell them,” says FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz on the agency website. “But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated.”
Violations can lead to stiff fines such as those incurred earlier this year by national retailers Amazon, Leon Max, Macy’s and Sears, who were collectively ordered to pay $1.26 million in penalties in January after misrepresenting products they were selling.
“The statutory framework in place that empowers the FTC to bring actions against manufacturers making green claims is simple and straight-forward and obligates manufacturers to tell the truth and substantiate their claims,” Scott says. “We hope that our enforcement actions send a message not just to our defendants, but to industry as a whole that it is imperative that a product’s green properties be accurately described and substantiated.”
The FTC first issued its Green Guides in 1992 in a bid to help marketers avoid misleading environmental claims, only to revise them in 1996, 1998 and in 2012. The Green Guides include general principles that apply to all marketing claims, how consumers are likely to interpret those claims and how marketers can qualify those claims so as not to deceive consumers.