In the past we have noted that third-party certifications and endorsements relating to environmental or “green” attributes are heavily scrutinized by the FTC as more “green” products continue to hit the market. Last year, we wrote about the FTC taking action against a plastic lumber marketer and a manufacturer for misleading advertising and marketing that claimed products to be made almost entirely out of recycled plastics.
Now, the FTC has sent warning letters to five providers of environmental certification seals and 32 businesses for using environmental seals and certifications that it potentially considers deceptive and in violation of the FTC’s Green Guides. Often, the FTC notes, it is difficult for consumers to tell whether a product has the environmental attributes or benefits that it touts. It recognized that environmental certification seals can address this problem by assuring consumers that they are actually getting the environmental benefit that they want to purchase. However, seals and certifications that marketers promote in an effort to assure consumers may inadvertently end up deceiving consumers by conveying broader environmental benefits than intended and should be qualified to indicate that basis for the certification.
Consequently, the FTC in its warning letters alerted several certifying organizations and numerous businesses that display such seals that without careful qualification, their general environmental certifications and seals of approval may pose a risk of deception because such claims can convey a wide range of meaning to consumers. The FTC provided a side-by-side comparison of two logos and noted that the non-compliant example only provides a general certification or seal without conveying the particular attributes for certification.