It seems just about every company is making environmental claims about their products these days. "Going green" offers an increasingly powerful advertising angle and a million ways to capitalize (and make a positive difference). But with more eco-labels than you can shake a stick at, how can you be sure product claims are spurring a sea change that runs deeper than sophisticated, eco-design biodegradable packaging?
Greenwashing is a nagging concern for consumers, and the environmental policy landscape isn't all that friendly for emerging green product manufacturers, either. That's why Green Products Roundtable (GPR), a "consensus-seeking entity" with members including The Dow Chemical Company, Five Winds International, Staples, Rainforest Alliance, the DOE and EPA (the latter two are non-voting participants) has published "Accelerating Green Commerce", a 43-page report asking the FTC to tighten-up their current Guide for Environmental Marketing Claims.
Under the GPR's proposed guidelines, it would no longer be acceptable for a table to be labeled as a 'sustainable wood table'. The advert and label would have to clarify that they have sourced the wood from a forest that was certified to a sustainable forest management standard, and further identify that standard.
The barrage of misleading and deceptive environmental marketing claims and product (brand) names bombarding consumers today is desensitizing consumers to valid and credible messaging -Consensus Guidance sent to the FTC [PDF]
Asking companies to elaborate upon problematic marketing terms such as biodegradable, sustainable and recyclable will give deeper meaning to the terms, while quantifying broad claims like 'made with natural ingredients' and 'this product saves trees' are other ways the Green Products Roundtable hopes to encourage better business practices.
The document is intended to help inform anyone who is attempting to evaluate “what is a credible eco-label”. The document should be helpful for entities involved in making, interpreting, using, or substantiating environmental claims on products. These entities include, for example, product manufacturers, retailers, consumers, institutional and commercial buyers, developers of environmental product standards, eco-label issuers, certiﬁers, dispute resolution entity, federal government, accreditation bodies, other interested stakeholders, and an authoritative or coordinating entitity. We expect that the information below would also be used in conjunction with the FTC’s Guidelines for Environmental Marketing Claims -Accelerating Green Commerce
For a modest annual fee of $175 companies are welcome to sign their Green Marketing Pledge which acts as a promise of compliance to GPR standards. If a company breaks the pledge (or the FTC guidelines) there is no liability, but their document could make it easier to enforce rulings in false-claims cases.
Over the next year, the GPR will work with stakeholders and eco-labeling programs to pilot test the information and continue advocating for transparency and honesty in environmental marketing materials. The proposed standards are US-centric for now, but there's plenty of room at the roundtable and an explicit desire to globalize the conversation. A final version of the report will be available by December and by 2012.