These are designed to protect consumers, including when they look to buy products promoted as being environmentally responsible.
The commission issues guidance specifically focused on sustainability, or “green,” marketing claims, commonly referred to as the FTC Green Guides to help marketers avoid making unfair or deceptive environmental promises.
These laws apply whether the marketing claim appears on paper, online or on the side of a bus. Ensuring believable claims helps build trust between buyers and sellers, which in turn facilitates efficient markets.
“Meeting customer needs without misrepresenting Domtar’s offerings is critical,” says Katie Zorn, Domtar’s vice president of marketing, product management & strategic planning. “The Green Guides are an essential resource that we reference before making any sustainability-related claims.”
With the recent growth of sustainability as a purchase driver, accurate environmentally-related claims are increasingly important. First released in 1992, the Green Guides reflect the FTC’s view on how marketers can avoid making misleading environmental claims on topics such as:
- Carbon Neutral
Companies found in violation of the guides can be required to stop making deceptive claims, risk litigation and may face penalties.
The Green Guides are typically updated once per decade and were last revised in 2012. Since then, broader consumer awareness of sustainability, new technology and the proliferation of third-party certification have raised issues that aren’t adequately addressed in the current rules.
In soliciting public feedback, the FTC received over 1,300 comments from organizations and individuals regarding the impending update.
Given Domtar’s leadership in sustainability, the company participated alongside partners in the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), offering suggestions to make the new guides easier for businesses to understand and use. Key proposals included:
- Adding the terms “circular,” “non-GMO” and “reusable” to the guides given the growth of these claims since the last update.
- Requesting the Green Guides avoid conflicts with recognized and accepted international standards, specifically the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
- Prohibiting claims that “recovered feedstocks” intended to be used as fuels for energy production can be called “recycled.”
Because paper recycling rates have continuously grown over recent decades and remain consistently high, the industry is considered an authority on the topic. As a result, AF&PA professionals participated in a recent workshop, Talking Trash at the FTC: Recyclable Claims and the Green Guides, which brought together a range of experts to focus specifically on recyclability claims. The event discussed topics including the current state of recycling practices and recycling-related advertising in the U.S., consumer perception of current and emerging recycling-related claims and the need for any updates or other changes to the Green Guides related to recycling claims.
As a panelist, AF&PA’s Executive Director of Recovered Fiber Brian Hawkinson positioned paper recycling as an environmental success story that other industries should seek to emulate. He mentioned that though paper products lead the way in recycling, consumer confusion about what is and what is not recyclable – or even what the term “recyclable” really means – remains widespread. AF&PA market research on consumer perceptions of the word “recyclable” and the “chasing arrows” symbol was also offered.
The FTC will likely seek additional stakeholder input as the agency continues to update the Green Guides.