November 21, 2008

“Green” Product Label May Be Misleading, Whitehouse Warns

Federal Trade Commission Reviewing Guidelines on Product Classification

Washington, D.C. – Over the past few years, many Americans have begun turning to “green” or organic products, often out of concern for the environment or a desire for better quality. Amidst shrinking family budgets and a record drop in personal spending, consumers who choose environmentally sensitive food or household supplies need to know that they’re getting what they’re paying for – but too often, those products simply don’t live up to their labels.

One 2008 survey showed that 39 percent of Americans are now going out of their way to buy products that are “environmentally sensitive,” and sales of organic products have doubled since 2003. But a recent study by the marketing firm TerraChoice showed that for only one “green” product out of 1,018 surveyed did the packaging or advertising reflect what the product actually contained.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which regulates product classifications, has been sufficiently disturbed by this “greenwashing” trend that in November 2007, it said it would re-examine its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or “Green Guides.” The Green Guides were last updated in 1998.

Today, U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) applauded the FTC’s effort to revamp the Green Guides, but also expressed concern that reform is needed quickly. In a letter to the FTC, Whitehouse urged the Commission to complete the review process “as expeditiously as possible.” The FTC is currently conducting public workshops to gather information on greenwashing, but has not yet set a date to release the updated guidelines.

“I fear that too many consumers are attracted to products that purport to be ‘green,’ but in fact are little different from standard products,” wrote Whitehouse, a former U.S. Attorney and Attorney General for Rhode Island, and a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. “The FTC must ensure that environmentally-focused consumers can trust the claims made by manufacturers and sellers if those consumers are to have their preferences reflected in the marketplace, and if these preferences are to lead to real progress on the environment.”


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