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Six Enforcement Actions Brought Challenging Environmental Product Claims Allegedly Failing To Comply With the FTC's 'Green' Guides

Irving Scher
Greenberg Traurig, LLP - New York Office

November 21, 2013

Previously published on November 19, 2013

On October 29th, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced six enforcement actions, including one that imposed a $450,000 civil penalty.  All six actions challenged allegedly unsupported “green” claims relating to the biodegradability of certain products.

In the $450,000 civil penalty case, the advertiser allegedly failed to adequately substantiate claims that its paper plates and bags would (a) biodegrade within one year when disposed in a landfill, or (b) compost in a safe and timely manner in a home composting pile, or that the plates were recyclable.

In the other five enforcement actions, the FTC mainly alleged that the advertisers lacked adequate substantiation for claims that plastic products treated with certain additives were biodegradable, biodegradable in a landfill, or biodegradable in a certain timeframe.

These actions serve as strong reminders that advertisers must have adequate evidence to support environmental claims about their products. The actions are part of the FTC’s program to ensure compliance with its Green Guides, which were significantly revised in October 2012. The Green Guides are designed to help ensure that claims about the environmental attributes of products are truthful and non-deceptive. Companies should ensure compliance with the Green Guides before making any advertising claims about the environmental effects of their materials or finished products.

Among other things, the Guides address the following kinds of claims and requirements:

  • The proper use of general environmental claims such as “green” or “eco-friendly” (which are generally disfavored);
  • Ensuring that limitations or explanations of claims be clear, prominent and specific;
  • The proper ways to advertise carbon offsets, including not promoting offsets that are already required by law, and disclosing if a purchased emission reduction won’t occur for at least two years;
  • The proper use of certifications or seals of approval, including disclosing any material relationship between the certifying agency and the advertiser;
  • The requirement that all materials in a product claimed to be compostable will break down or become part of usable compost safely, and at about the same time as the materials with which it is composted;
  • Prohibition of blanket “biodegradable” claim unless the entire product or package will break down and return to nature within a reasonable period of time after disposal;
    Prohibition of claims that a product is “Free-of” a substance if it has more than a trace amount;
  • Ensuring that a product claimed to be “non-toxic” is safe for people and the environment;
  • Having scientific evidence showing that a product claimed to be “ozone-friendly” or safe, is in fact as claimed;
  • Having adequate substantiation for a “recyclable” claim, and properly qualifying claims for products only made partly from recycled materials; and
  • How and when it is proper to make claims that a product is made with renewable energy or renewable materials.


The views expressed in this document are solely the views of the author and not Martindale-Hubbell. This document is intended for informational purposes only and is not legal advice or a substitute for consultation with a licensed legal professional in a particular case or circumstance.

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