FTC Pushes Up Hearings On Environmental Marketing Guides

The increase in false green marketing and advertising claims has prompted the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to initiate a regulatory review of its environmental marketing guidelines, Green Guides, more than a year ahead of schedule.

While the review had been scheduled to begin in 2009, the FTC chose to accelerate the process to ensure that the guides reflect today's marketplace. The guides that detail principles for environmental marketing claims and provide specifics on green claims, such as degradability, compostability, recyclability, recycled content and ozone safety, were last updated in 1998.

In a Federal Register Notice, the FTC requests comments on the guides, including standard questions about costs, benefits, effectiveness of the guides, and questions on topics such as sustainable and renewable claims.

The workshops will review potential consumer protection issues in marketing claims that have surfaced in the last two years, according to Laura Koss, attorney for the division of enforcement in the bureau of consumer protection of the FTC.

"We encourage marketers to make very specific claims and substantiate them," she says. During the very comprehensive review, we will give the public an opportunity to comment throughout the process before making recommendations on the changes to make to the Green Guides."

As part of the review, the FTC will hold a series of public workshops through 2008 on green marketing topics. The first, scheduled for Jan. 8, will address marketing of carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates (RECs).

Carbon offsets fund projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions in one place to counterbalance or "offset" emissions that occur elsewhere. For example, a carbon offset provider might use offset proceeds to pay for landfill methane collection activities or tree planting in an effort to reduce greenhouse gases.

RECs are created when renewable power generators sell their electricity as conventional electricity, and then sell the environmental attributes of their power separately through a certificate. For example, consumers may purchase conventional electricity from their utility, and then separately purchase RECs to subsidize renewable energy elsewhere.

Google reported Tuesday that it will spend hundreds of millions of dollars to develop renewable energy as part of an ambitious strategy to clean up the environment and reduce the company's power bill. The Mountain View, Calif.-based search engine aims to foster innovation in solar, wind and geothermal technology to make green energy cheaper.

The push isn't limited to companies in the United States. The U.K.'s ABTA travel association, along with the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO), have also begun to review carbon offsetting in a campaign operated by Carbon Offsets Ltd. called Reduce My Footprint. The initiative doesn't claim to absolve the guilt of travelers, but encourages them to reduce emissions across every aspect of life--not just air travel--and to offset what can't be reduced.

Reduce My Footprint ensures that money raised goes to projects to improve the lives of people who live in vacation destinations to sustain the beautiful environments they visit and contribute to government-approved offsetting schemes. <[> The FTC's announcement came days before Greenpeace released the sixth edition of its "Guide to Greener Electronics" that now includes television and computer games. The guide ranks consumer electronics companies based on the removal of toxic chemicals from their products and company recycling initiatives.

Microsoft, Nintendo, Philips and Sharp rank at the list's bottom for environmental performance, with Nintendo becoming the first company to score zero out of a possible 10 points. Philips and Microsoft performed little better--scoring 2 and 2.7, respectively.

Firms that improved their ranking this year manufacture entire products, or major components, that are entirely free of hazardous ingredients. Companies that only commit to eliminating harmful chemicals sometime in the future earn a lower score.

Nokia, Motorola and Sony Ericsson each received penalty points for not fully honoring their own recycling take-back policies in the Philippines, Thailand, Argentina, Russia and India. As a result, Nokia fell from the top position to ninth, and Motorola dropped from ninth position to 14th.

Apple, Panasonic, Samsung, Sharp, Sony and Toshiba have recently indicated that they now produce personal computers, lighting LCD panels, camcorders and digital cameras--or at least major components of these items--free of PVC and/or BFRs.

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