Updating the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides

Written on: February 1, 2023 by Nicholas Georges

The Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) U.S Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims Green Guides (Green Guides)i provide guidance to manufacturers and marketers on what environmental claims can be made on a product. During my time working in the aerosol industry, I was told a handful of times that I was preventing sales by not including a certain claim on a product. On many of these occasions, I was trying to minimize potential liability with the California Air Resources Board (CARB) and volatile organic compound (VOC) regulations. For example, don’t call a product a cleaner if it doesn’t actually clean. Other times, I wasn’t comfortable with how marketers stretched data to make certain claims.

Two-thirds of U.S consumers sayii that they want to buy from environmentally friendly companies, that they are willing to pay more for sustainable products and that they use labels or third-party certifications on product packaging to determine if a product is environmentally friendly. This narrative is reflected in purchasing data.iii Products that are advertised as sustainable have higher market share than other products, despite a significant price premium. Unfortunately, it’s become more difficult to distinguish between substantiated sustainability claims and Greenwashing, which are products that are promoted as sustainable but fail to meet certain standards. In the U.S., the FTC is responsible for protecting consumers from misinformation, such as Greenwashing, and taking action against companies that make deceptive environmental claims.

The Green Guides were first published in 1992 and last updated in 2012. They are not enforceable, but instead provide illustrative examples of how consumers might interpret particular claims and how marketers can substantiate these claims to avoid deceiving consumers.

On Dec. 20, 2022, the FTC publishediv a notice in the Federal Register soliciting public comments on potential updates to the Green Guides. In addition to general issues, such as whether the Green Guides are still needed, there are several environmental claims that the FTC is requesting feedback on consumer perception. The Household & Commercial Products Association (HCPA) will submit comments on behalf of the entire household and commercial products supply chain; however, there are a couple of areas that I want to bring to the attention of the aerosol industry.

The Green Guides include a section concerning “recyclable” claims.v Currently, manufacturers and marketers can make a recyclable claim if a substantial majority of consumers and communities have the ability to recycle a product after use. This is critical for the aerosol industry because the FTC currently defines “substantial majority” as 60%. As part of the notice, the FTC is soliciting feedback from stakeholders as to whether the 60% threshold should be modified. The Sustainable Packaging Coalition (SPC) publishedvi an updated study in 2021 that found that the recycling access rate had dropped to 62% for aluminum aerosol containers and 61% for steel aerosol containers. If the FTC increases the “substantial majority” percentage, it will be essential for the Aerosol Recycling Initiativevii to be successful in getting more material recovery facilities (MRFs) to accept aerosol containers in order for companies to continue making “recyclable” claims on aerosol products.

Another potential revision to the Green Guides is related to “recycled content” claims. The Green Guides currently allow marketers to substantiate “recycled content” claims using per-product or annual weighted average calculation methods; however, but the FTC is soliciting input as to whether alternative methods should be considered.

The FTC is also considering changes to its guidance on post-industrial recycled content claims. The Green Guides indicate that both post-industrial recycled content and post-consumer recycled (PCR) content can be included in recycled content claims. Recently, States have pushed for laws that focus only on PCR content, so it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that stakeholders request this same approach from the FTC.

For more information about the Green Guides or to provide input on HCPA’s comments, please contact me at ngeorges@thehcpa.org. SPRAY

i The Current Green Guides can be found here
ii Business of Sustainability Index. PDI Technologies. Sept. 26, 2022. Available here
iii Sustainable Market Share Index. Kronthal-Sacco, R. and Whelan, T. New York University Stern Center for Sustainable Business. April 2022. Available here
iv The notice can be found here
v 16 CFR 260.12
vi link
vii link