Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Did you ever wonder?

Has anyone ever told you something and you buy into it.. you eat it up and walk away thinking, "Wow, I feel better about that person or that company"? Have you ever woke up the next morning or even just tried to explain it to someone else and as you are talking it out it just doesn't make sense anymore. I have. I've watched little news blurbs, read quick headlines or even what I thought was the the whole story only to look into it further and realize that it wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  I've listened to a presentation only to later find out that either the presenter wasn't fully upfront (or to give them the benefit) wasn't completely informed.

Many times in our industry this can be traced back to green washing. Companies or individuals want you to think that they are doing the right thing. They bank on the fact that you won't ask how. I am not an engineer and (unlike my husband and son) I don't really appreciate a good episode of "How It's Made" but I do have at least some common sense and sometimes things just don't make sense.

It's a fine line because you don't want to put those who are choosing to do the right thing and create a green product under more scrutiny. Who deserves more hassle for that? Yet companies who either choose to ride on the coat tails of green ideas without green action really need to answer the tough questions. I guess it's really the eternal struggle of life. It seems like there should be an easy way to tell ones intentions or really define a companies true goals but.. at this point all we can do is ask the questions and hope they can provide true answers.

The FTC has made the decision to "Crack Down on Green Washing"

Companies with hopes of green washing should prepare to put away the hose. It’s been a long time coming but the FTC has started to watch how “real” environmental statements are. They began by creating guidelines although after reviewing them myself a good portion of them are standard, honest business practices. Most manufactures have little to worry about as the majority of these guidelines will only affect those who are truly trying to green wash. To outline the new regulations there are a few basic areas that they focused on:

Basic Environmental Benefits: They put an end to the broad, unqualified claims “green/eco-friendly” these are difficult to prove and they suggest getting more detailed; “15 bottles were recycled to make this product”.

Carbon Offsets: The FTC requires that the company has reliable scientific evident to support any claims it makes.

Certifications & Seals of Approval: In order to promote certifications and seals the company must provide details on why they received them, even by providing a website for the consumer to look it up if the information is too great. They are also required to report any affiliations with those who provided the seals or certifications.

Compostable/Degradable: In order to claim that a product is compostable; competent and reliable scientific evidence that all materials in the product or package will breakdown into or become part of usable compost safely and in the same time as the materials with which it is composted. They must also specify if at home composting cannot occur. In order to label the item degradable they must prove that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within one year. Items destined for landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities will not degrade within a year, so biodegradable claims for them shouldn't be made.

Free of/Non-Toxic/Ozone Safe & Friendly: The “free of” claims details are scary to me. As a person who tries to be an informed buyer this rule seems to allow producers to claim things that aren’t 100% true. They can claim to be free of yet still have trace amounts or background levels, or if the amount of the substance present doesn’t cause harm, or if the substance wasn’t added intentionally. My question.. please explain how is it “free of” said item if it’s really there? Manufactures cannot say a product is free of one item but substitute another like item with the same risks. Claiming a product is “free of” an ingredient that is never associated with the product just to gain environment recognition is considered deceptive. Marketers who claim that their product is non-toxic need competent and reliable scientific evidence that the product is safe for both people and the environment. It is deceptive to misrepresent that a product is ozone-friendly or safe for the ozone layer or atmosphere.

Recyclable or Recycled Content: If a product is recyclable but facilities are not available for at least 60% of consumers the marketer must make reference to this. The lower the available recycling facilities the more the company needs to emphasis limited recycling availability. Marketers can only make recycled content claims if the ingredients have been recovered or diverted from the waste stream during the manufacturing process or after consumer use. If the products contain only partial recycled content the amount must be specified “Made from 30% recycled content”. Should an item contain components that are used, reconditioned or remanufactured the product must be labeled accordingly.

Refillable: Unless the manufacturer provides a way or product to refill the package they cannot claim it is refillable. 

Made with Renewable Energy or Materials: Items labeled that they are made with renewable energy or materials should be specifically labeled to avoid confusion (made with solar energy or flooring made from bamboo which is replanted and grows faster than we use it). All or virtually all of a product must be manufactured using the renewable energy or material should this not be the case the percentage must be specified (i.e.: 20% produced utilizing wind energy or packaging made from 50% plant based renewables)

Source Reduction: When making source reduction claims the producer needs to specify exactly what has been reduced (i.e.: 10 percent less waste then our prior design)

As mentioned, these new guidelines are just a small step towards eliminating green washing and false environmental claims. As with any journey, the path is still long with many obstacles. This information was pulled from FTC’s website to view the complete Green Guidelines and legal resources related to environmental marketing you can go to business.ftc.gov

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