FTC Green Guides Provide Guidance For Sustainable Facility Products and Services
The Federal Trade Commissions’s Green Guides provide important guidance regarding what facility managers should look for when sourcing products or services that are sustainable.
When the FTC revised its Green Guides – the guidelines that detail what the FTC considers proper marketing of green products and services – it was in recognition of two realities. One, that demand for such products and services has continued to grow, and, two, that so has the sometimes questionable marketing and promotion of them.
The same factors that motivated the FTC to action are producing both change and challenge in facility management. Increasingly, the desire of building and facilities ownership — and often the mandate - is to use green cleaning products and services. This is because of concern for the environment and also the health and safety of tenants and workers. But the challenge is that facility managers really have no independent way of knowing whether a product or service that labels itself “sustainable” actually is.
And that is what the FTC wanted to address. What the commission wanted to clearly communicate in the revisions to the Green Guides is that the value of certification depends on the source and the conditions of that certification and that consumers of such products and services have a right to transparency on the subject. The demand for green had become such that “green washing” was a genuine concern.
Known formally as the Federal Trade Commission’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, the Green Guides were first introduced in 1992 to govern advertising claims related to the environmental benefits of a product or service. They were revised in 2012 to better align with the needs of a changing marketplace.
The Green Guides are not laws or regulations. Although they are guidance, they do reflect the perspective of the FTC and how the agency interprets the law. Its objective is to advance more accurate advertising and promotion and to help prevent deception.
In essence, the guidelines govern any claim a product manufacturer or service provider makes when marketing or promoting that suggests the product has an environmental benefit or environmental health benefit. This includes any claim that a product is green or sustainable or that any part of a cleaning service is green or sustainable.
So what, specifically, do the Green Guides advise purchasers to be aware of?
• Any general environmental benefit claim. Purchasers should be wary of any product or service that says it is green or sustainable and then does not qualify this claim with respect to its specific environmental or health advantages. The FTC considers this to be misleading.
• Any “unqualified” seal. Any seal or certification that is shown and that suggests a product or service is environmentally preferable should also be qualified. Purchasers should expect that a product or service that says it is certified as being environmentally beneficial should state the basis for that certification in specific terms. That substantiation must also be backed up with actual evidence.
• Details on second or third party claims. The FTC says that claims are fully credible only when made by a third party that is independent and that does not have a conflict of interest. The Green Guides consider a claim to be deceptive when it is a “self-certification” or a seal awarded by a product manufacturer to itself and not identified as such. Also, the FTC stipulates that certifications by a second party, such as an industry trade association or membership organization that has an interest in the company, must be identified as such.
• Any material connection. Finally, the Green Guides stipulate that any material connection between a party certifying a product or service and that certified party must be disclosed. This is to ensure that if the certifier has a board, for example, that is in any way controlled by the manufacturer or service provider being certified, that the connection be plainly identified.