The countdown has begun in our households of six and four til the opening day for Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax. In the meantime the Lorax has been busy spreading the word to help the environment. Mazda recently unveiled a commercial touting its CX-5 as the only car to receive the Truffula Tree Seal of Approval. (Watch it here) Last we looked, the FTC lacks jurisdiction over cartoon characters nor do consumers take their seals of approval literally (well, except for our 7 year olds but they’re too young to go out and buy a Mazda.) However, the ad provides a good opportunity to review what the rules are when it comes to the use of environmental seals of approval
The FTC’s proposed revised Green Guides (opening date for the final guides has not yet been announced) discuss environmental seals and certifications at length. The Guides make clear that environmental seals are a form of endorsement and subject to the FTC’s Endorsement Guides. Thus, any material connections should be disclosed. For example, a company should disclose if the certification is not done by an independent third party (i.e. the company self-certifies or the certification is done by a trade association for which it is a dues paying member.) In addition, companies should clearly distinguish between being a member of an organization and being certified by that organization. Last year a large consumer products company settled two consumer class actions that alleged it did not clearly disclose that its green logo was part of a self-certification program.
Seals or Certifications which do not explain the basis upon which the seal is awarded (e.g. reduced carbon emissions or recycling of waste materials) also likely deceptively convey that the product is environmentally superior. Any disclosure as to the basis upon which the seal is awarded should be be in close proximity to the seal itself. However, the name of the seal itself can sometimes provide the basis for the award. (e.g. “No CFC Seal”) However, certifiers do not have to make their specific standards or criteria public.
Finally, obtaining third party certification does not relieve an advertiser of the obligation to substantiate its claim. The third party certification can serve as the necessary substantiation but only if the advertiser assures itself that the certifier actually has adequate substantiation. Last year the FTC brought an action against a certifier that allegedly never tested any products and simply certified any product that paid the required fee.
As of the time we went to press there was no comment from the Lorax about any of this.