How Proposed Changes to the FTC’s “Green Guides” Can Impact You

by Don Carli on Monday, November 8, 2010 in Features

If you are involved in the advertising or marketing of products that make explicit or implied “green” benefit claims, you need be aware of the Federal Trade Commission’s recently proposed changes to its “Green Guides” for environmental marketing.

The FTC’s request for public comment on the proposed guidelines presents the design profession with an opportunity to leverage The Living Principles for Design framework and make a direct impact on the way sustainability is projected in the marketplace. Join your colleagues for an interactive “tweetchat” to discuss the implications of the proposed Green Guides on Friday, November 12 between 11:30 AM and 2:30 PM EST. Participate in this live conversation by going to our chat room at on Friday, or simply follow and submit tweets on any other Twitter platform using this hashtag: #LPchat.

In addition to learning about and commenting on the proposed Green Guides, The Living Principles community can play an important role by identifying examples of design and marketing that embody ideal environmental benefit claims. We encourage you to go to the Living Principles site and post case studies of projects making green claims that are accurate, legal, ethical, and that inspire positive cultural change.

Legitimate green innovators can lose sales to competitors when unscrupulous advertisers make false, misleading or unfair advertising claims. Furthermore, when misleading environmental benefit claims are allowed to proliferate, the design professionals who create them, the public and the environment stand to lose.

According to a recent survey by the marketing firm TerraChoice, the number of products claiming to be green increased 73% since 2009, and more than 95% of consumer products marketed as “green,” make misleading or inaccurate claims—a practice TerraChoice calls “greenwashing.” In addition to potentially being illegal, all too often these misleading claims violate several AIGA standards of professional practice.

Over the next few days, take some time to visit the FTC site and familiarize yourself with the proposed changes to the Green Guides, then join us for a lively tweetchat this Friday.

What do the proposed changes to the FTC Green Guides address?

The revised Green Guides caution marketers and their agencies not to make blanket, general claims that a product is “green,” “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly” because several hearings and a consumer perception study conducted by the FTC confirm that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. (The entire study is available to the public at

The proposed Green Guides also caution marketers not to use unqualified certifications or seals of approval – those that do not specify the basis for the certification. While a decade ago there were a handful of seals and certifications, today sites like the Ecolabel Index and the ISEAL Alliance track hundreds. The growing number of certifications and seals of approval is confusing for institutional buyers as well as for individual consumers. Accordingly, the changes proposed by the FTC also include new guidance on the use of product certifications and seals of approval in addition to “renewable energy” claims, “renewable materials” claims, “carbon offset” claims and other environmental claims.

Some may see the proposed revisions to the Green Guides as a burden, but increased clarity in the guidelines coupled with regulatory enforcement, advertising industry self-regulation through organizations like the Better Business Bureau, increased scrutiny by media channels and heightened consumer awareness will help to discourage unscrupulous marketing tactics and to level the playing field for sustainable business innovators. Markets will benefit, society will benefit, the environment will benefit and it will provide advantage to firms developing products that are truly environmentally preferable that also qualify and substantiate their green marketing claims.

We look forward to seeing you online this coming Friday to discuss the implications for designers and their clients everywhere.

Many thanks to Lunchbreath for the thumbnail illustration. See more work at