Green and Organic Marketing Claims: Practices for Compliance


Advertising a product as "green" or "organic," otherwise known as "greenwashing," may accomplish any number of marketing goals, including boosting the product’s sales, enhancing its brand recognition, aligning it with a recognizable political cause or inspiring brand loyalty. Greenwashing can also lead to false advertising claims at both the federal and state level. The Federal Trade Commission Act, and many of its state counterparts, generally prohibit deceptive representations in advertising, labeling and sales presentations. In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission issued the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, otherwise known as the "Green Guide," in order to provide some clarity as to what would be considered deceptive green advertising.

The Green Guide provides guidance on general methods and types of advertising, such as comparative claims, as well as guidance on specific advertising claims, such as a claim that a product is biodegradable, photodegradable, compostable, recyclable or ozone-safe. For example, a product with recycled content should not be labeled as "recycled" unless that content meets the standards imposed by the Green Guide. Even if the product were able to makea recycled claim, the Green Guide may require that these claims be qualified on the label. Companies are often reluctant to clog up their advertising with lengthy disclosures and disclaimers. However, such disclaimers may be the best way to avoid a deceptive advertising claim or enforcement action. It is important to recognize, however, that while a disclaimer or qualifier can help make a statement not deceptive, it cannot cure an otherwise patently deceptive statement.

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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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