An End to "Greenwashing?": The Federal Trade Commission's Efforts to "Wash Away" Deceptive Advertising

As it becomes increasingly common to find "green" environmentally-friendly products on retailers' shelves, the Federal Trade Commission is taking active steps to guarantee the legitimacy of "green" labeling and ensure that such labels do in fact represent accurate descriptions of the products' environmental benefits. Consequently, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is about to release updated "Green Guides," which are expected to narrowly redefine and limit companies' and marketers' abilities to make environmental claims about their products. Once the updated guides are released, they will be the first environmental-marketing guidelines to be issued in the past twelve years. Currently, there are approximately 300 products and packages on the market stamped with environment seals of approval, such as "recyclable" or "chemical free." Experts are predicting that the new Guides could render many labels such as these useless, or even more drastically, in violation of the new Federal Trade Commission standards.

The new Green Guides are likely to include stricter regulations of packaging standards for products claiming to be "recyclable" or "biodegradable," more control over when terms such as "carbon neutral" can accurately be used, ensuring the accuracy of labeling when a retailer or manufacturer deems a product to be "green," and defining broad terms such as "sustainability." An additional goal is to end companies' "greenwashing"—portraying the products and packaging as environmentally friendly, when in reality their products or their processes negatively impact the environment.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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