The Federal Trade Commission has recently proposed new FTC Green Marketing Guidelines. (Click here for a PDF summary of the proposal. Click here for a great review of the subject from GreenBiz.com.) Overall, I think this is a good thing. But is it too little, too late?
This proposal is the first change to these guides since 1998. 1998! That’s 12 years, a lifetime in marketing terms. The green movement has exploded since then and pervades just about every aspect of life and business these days. Plus, there are hundreds of green certification programs that have cropped up, estimates going as high as 300-400 different certifications. Why have these been allowed to take root? In my opinion, lack of FTC activism. Even when the FTC called out some companies for their claims of textile products being made of bamboo, it was really a claim based on general mislabeling, not green claims.
In the FTC’s defense, I understand why they may not have taken a stronger role during this time. It’s because we can’t define what “green” really means. It can mean anything from reusable products to LEED certification for buildings to biodegradable packaging to products made with renewable energy… and the list goes on and on and on.
One of the biggest issues is that of biodegradability. Seems like every time I write something about the subject, I’ll receive, usually heated, commentary about how this or that can or cannot be considered biodegradable. In the proposed guidelines, “For solid waste products other than those destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities, the proposal clarifies that the ‘reasonably short period of time’ for complete decomposition is no more than one year after customary disposal.” Okay, finally a benchmark. Sticking point for me is “customary disposal.” What is customary? That’s where consumer behavior comes in. Do consumers know how to properly dispose of the product? Will disposal instructions have to be listed on every product that claims it’s biodegradable? Then there’s the point of aerobic versus anaerobic landfills. There’s also the question of what residue is left when it biodegrades. Just a lot of room for interpretation.
What I find most troubling about this as a retail marketer of promotional products is that I have to rely on my suppliers to substantiate any green claims they might make. That’s why I hand select my suppliers and the products that are featured in my company’s PromoWithPurposeShop.com. Product descriptions for eco friendly products, which are provided by my suppliers, include why the products are greener options (biodegradable, recyclable, recycled, etc.). However, with the introduction of these new guidelines (a final version of the guidelines is targeted for the end of this year), I hope that we will see even more detailed product information from promotional products suppliers. To date, it’s been pretty vague and pretty frustrating for someone like me who wants to encourage clients to select greener products.
So what do you think about the new FTC green marketing guidelines changes? Looking forward to your comments.
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