FTC Ramps Up Enforcement Actions Under Revised Green Guides To Include Deceptive Biodegradable Plastics Claims

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As United States consumers are progressively willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products, businesses catering to this market are making an ever-growing number of representations about the “green” qualities of their products and packaging. But not all green claims are what they claim to be, and now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is generally responsible for preventing deceptive and misleading advertising, has been “cracking down” on companies with unsubstantiated environmental marketing claims. On October 29, 2013, the FTC for the first time expanded its anti-”greenwashing” campaign to companies making biodegradable plastic claims. Five actions were brought against two types of companies – a company making additives that it claimed would made plastic products biodegradable, and four companies marketing products as biodegradable based on the use of such additives. These cases, along with additional recent FTC settlements and guidance documents, send a clear message to the business community that the FTC is intent on ensuring compliance with its recently revised Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims (Green Guides).

The Evolution of the Green Guides -

The FTC issued its first version of the Green Guides in 1992 to provide notice to the business community of the conditions and limitations on the types of green marketing claims a company can make about the environmental attributes of a product or its packaging. After an extensive public process to reassess and revise the Green Guides, the revised Green Guides were finally issued in October 2012. With the arrival of the new guidelines, the FTC ramped up enforcement on green marketing claims. In the last year, the agency has brought at least 12 actions alleging deceptive and misleading claims based on the Green Guides.

Originally Published in Legal & Tax Newsletter - December 2013.

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