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Industry Insight

Before greenwashing becomes a federal offense

The US Federal Trade Commission (

By Gail Nickel-Kailing
Published: July 14, 2008

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Canadian Competition Bureau - in collaboration with the Canadian Standards Association - each have released guidelines that will help marketers ensure that "green marketing" claims are not misleading. Environmental Claims: A Guide for Industry and Advertisers, from the Canadian Competition Bureau, addresses a number of commonly used green claims and provides examples of best practices on how such claims can be used by Canadian businesses to comply with the false or misleading provisions of the laws enforced by the Competition Bureau. Among other practices, the Guide states that:
  • The use of vague claims implying general environmental improvement are insufficient and should be avoided.
  • Environmental claims should be clear, specific, accurate and not misleading.
  • Environmental claims should be verified and substantiated, prior to being made.
Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims from the FTC, also administrative guidelines, are for US businesses to help comply with "truth in advertising" laws as they pertain to environmental marketing claims.
Guidance about the use of environmental marketing claims applies to eight different types of claims:
  • General environmental benefit claims
  • Claims of degradability, biodegradability, or photodegradability
  • Claims that products or packages are compostable
  • Claims of recyclability for a product or package
  • Claims of recycled content
  • Claims that a product or package has been reduced or is lower in weight, volume, or toxicity
  • Claims that a package is refillable
  • Claims that a product is "ozone safe" or "ozone friendly"
Because both the Canadian and the US governments can prosecute companies who make false or misleading advertising claims, now is a good time to think about your own marketing efforts. These guides are helpful to ensure that your wording is clear and accurate.



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