U.S. trade regulators are cracking down on green claims, with potentially significant implications for the paint and coating industry.
The American Coatings Association is taking a careful look at the Federal Trade Commission’s newly revised Green Guides, which toughen and expand the legally enforceable guidelines for environmental marketing claims.
The guides were first published in 1992 and revised in 1996 and 1998. The new changes were proposed in 2010.
This is the first revision for the guides since 1998, and they feature significant changes and additions that are not subject to public comment.
The changes include a general ban on broad, unsupported claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” and a sharp new look at environmental certification schemes.
Coating Makers’ Review
The ACA, which represents paint and coating makers, has said it is analyzing the new guide “to determine the impact it will have on environmental claims and green certifications.”
Once that review is complete, the ACA will provide a “comprehensive review” of the Green Guides to its membership. The association also plans to host a Virtual Learning Conference for members to discuss the revisions and ask questions.
‘Truthful and Substantiated’
The guides, which include both specific and general guidelines, aim to rein in the deceptive environmental marketing known as “green washing.”
“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,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
“But this win-win can only occur if marketers’ claims are truthful and substantiated,” he added. ”The FTC’s changes to the Green Guides will level the playing field for honest business people, and it is one reason why we had such broad support.”
The new rules include modifications, clarifications and new guidance on environmental claims that were not common when the guides were last reviewed. The new sections cover certifications and seals of approval; carbon offsets, free-of claims, non-toxic claims, “made with renewable energy” claims, and “made with renewable materials” claims.
The new guidelines are summarized here.
A cornerstone of the new guidance is its strong warning against the use of general environmental labels like “green.”
Marketers are warned “not to make broad, unqualified claims that a product is ‘environmentally friendly’ or ‘eco-friendly’ because the FTC’s consumer perception study confirms that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits,” the FTC said.
|Marketers should avoid the terms “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly,” which suggest a product “has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits.”|
“Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate.”
Even a claim like “green, made with recycled content” may “be deceptive if the environmental costs of using recycled content outweigh the environmental benefits of using it,” the FTC warns.
Certifications and Seals
The new guidelines also caution that claims boasting various “certifications” and “seals of approval” may, in fact, be endorsements. If so, they must adhere to the provisions of FTC’s Endorsement Guides, which require marketers to:
• Disclose any material connections to the certifying organization. (A material connection is one that could affect the credibility of the endorsement.)
• Avoid marketing environmental certifications or seals “that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification.”
• “Identify, clearly and prominently, specific environmental benefits” for seals and certifications “that don’t convey the basis for the certification.”
‘Free of’ Claims
The new guides also address “free of” claims; that is, declarations that a product does not contain a specified substance or substances. According to the Guides, marketers may make a “free of” claim for a product that contains some amount of a substance if:
• The product does not have more than trace amounts or background levels of the substance;
• The amount of substance present does not cause harm that consumers typically associate with the substance; and
• The substance was not added to the product intentionally.
Marketers who “claim that their product is non-toxic need competent and reliable scientific evidence that the product is safe for both people and the environment.”
The paint and coating industry has worked aggressively for years “to manufacture products in an environmentally conscious way, without compromising product performance,” ACA reports on its site.
|Coating makers say they have made major strides in product stewardship.|
Responding to market demands, new technology and growing regulations, the industry has developed “water-based coatings, powder coatings, ultraviolet cure coatings, and other processes, as well as lower-emitting coating products” that “have contributed to reductions in both hazardous air pollutants (HAPs) and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from production in recent years,” according to ACA.
Among other things, the industry says it:
• Reclaims 97% of all waste solvents from paint and coatings manufacturing facilities for future use;
• Slashed “total air releases” by the industry by 76% between 1995 and 2009;
• Halved the industry’s water discharges of EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) chemicals from 1996 to 2005; and
• Accounted for less than 1% — 0.37% — of the hazardous waste generated nationally in 2009.