WASHINGTON — The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has proposed a number of revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims

One of the most significant is a new section on the use of environmental certifications and seals of approval in advertising.

The FTC has said it recognizes that environmental certifications can benefit consumers by providing a consistent definition of the “green” attributes of products or services, as well as verification that technical claims are true. The agency also said that seals of approval may confuse or mislead, so a new section of the proposed “Green Guides” gives detailed guidance on how to avoid deceptive claims relating to environmental certifications.

The new section on certifications and seals of approval (proposed 16 C.F.R. Part 260.6) has five parts. Part (a) states that it is deceptive to claim that a product, package or service has been endorsed or certified by an independent, third-party organization when it has not. Part (b) of 16 C.F.R. Part 260.6 says that a marketer’s use of the name, logo or seal of approval of a third-party certifier will be considered an endorsement and, therefore, must meet the criteria for endorsements set forth in the FTC’s Endorsement Guides (16 C.F.R. Part 255).

Part (c) points out that third-party certification does not necessarily provide the necessary substantiation for all the claims that may be communicated by the mention of the certification in an advertisement. It remains the advertiser’s responsibility to determine what claims are communicated by reference to an environmental certification or seal of approval in its advertising, and to ensure that the certification adequately substantiates its claims with tests, analyses, research, or studies that have been conducted and evaluated in an objective manner by qualified persons and are generally accepted in the profession to yield accurate and reliable results. Part (d) warns against the use of broad and unqualified certifications or seals of approval because they likely convey a general environmental benefit claim, and the FTC claims it is “highly unlikely” that advertisers can back such claims up. Part (e) states that any language qualifying a certification or seal should be “clear and prominent” and clearly convey that the certification or seal of approval refers only to specific and limited benefits. This qualifying language may be part of the certification or seal itself.

The deadline to file comments on the proposed changes is Dec. 10.

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