Many products these days make claims on their labels that place them somewhere on the nebulous spectrum of “green”. These endorsements range from “all natural”, to ”environmentally friendly”, “biodegradable”, or “eco” just to name a few.
But what do these labels really mean? “Environmentally friendly” compared to what? “Biodegradable” how, and under what conditions?
The fact is, many manufacturers in recent years have taken note of strong consumer appetite for safer products and have responded– but not always with meaningful changes. Products and services that gratuitously toss around vague environmental claims have come to be known as “greenwashing“.
For example, many product labels feature environmental seals – little pictoral “stamps” with a tagline; while there are some legitimate third party verification seals that attest to a products’ safety, environmental performance and/or the manufacturing process, some may be nothing more than ornament. Other examples of deceptive advertising practices may include misleading claims, or overstatement of environmental benefits of a product during its manufacture, use or disposal.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) first adopted its “Green Guide” in 1998 to help provide a baseline of clarity for both consumers and the manufacturers making environmental claims about their products; the revisions that are in the works now will be the first since 1998.
The new revisions will be based on research done by the FTC to gauge consumer understanding of various “green” labeling terms and practices. However, the FTC stops short of providing legal definitions to terms and the guidelines will still be voluntary and self-implemented by manufacturers.
Listen to the KQED Forum “An End to Greenwashing” that provides a discussion of the new FTC guidelines, here
Visit the Good Guide, a group that helps you find “healthy, green, ethical products according to scientific ratings”
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