June 16, 2015 Articles

Tips for Navigating the "Greenwashing" Landscape

The FTC has brought numerous actions against companies who only claim to practice environmental friendliness.

By Sarah E. Merkle

“Greenwashing”—a word play on “whitewashing”—occurs when a company “spends more time and money claiming to be ‘green’ through advertising and marketing than actually implementing business practices that minimize environmental impact.” What Is Greenwashing?, Greenwashing Index. Society is certainly concerned with caring for the environment and rewarding companies that produce environmentally favorable products, but society and the government are also concerned with holding corporations accountable for “green” claims made in marketing appeals. With accountability in mind, on October 1, 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) revised the “Green Guides” (more formally known as Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims)—a set of parameters “designed to help marketers ensure that the claims they make about environmental attributes of their products are truthful and non-deceptive.” Press Release, Fed. Trade Comm’n, FTC Issues Revised “Green Guides” (Oct. 1, 2012). Since then, the commission has brought enforcement actions against numerous companies whose claims of “greenness” are misleading. This article surveys the 2012 revisions and recent FTC enforcement actions, state regulation and enforcement, and the public’s efforts to hold corporations accountable through discourse and private actions.

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