An interesting sea change has caught my eye over the past 12 months : the stricter regulation of green advertising.
Eight months ago we reported how Denmark was introducing tough measures to stamp out greenwashing. The announcement said:
Environmental or ethical claims in marketing should therefore be correct and precise and exaggerations as to the company’s or the product’s ethical qualities or positive effects should be prohibited.
In effect this meant that a company cannot claim to be green, ethical or sustainable because it’s impossible to be precise in defining any of these terms (and I can’t help but wish that such hyperbole was banned from all advertising!).
However they were only part of a growing trend which has been building as more and more greenwash was attracting more and more attention. One of the leaders of this trend was Canada, whose 2008 guidelines stated the Competition Bureau would not hesitate to
pursue deceptive environmental claims, fine violators or remove products from store shelves
Now the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has woken up and stuck its own oar into the debate. A set of proposed guidelines follow the Danish example of warning companies off from using broad terms because
Very few products, if any… have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate
This is a welcome intervention and a far cry from the EU’s 2000 and DEFRA’s 2003 stodgy pronouncements on the matter.
However, there are three points which need to be taken into account before we get too carried away:
1) the FTC’s guidelines are for consultation only, meaning that they will almost inevitably be watered down by industry lobbyists;
2) the majority of these are guidelines, not laws, meaning their efficacy is dependent solely upon political will;
3) note the emphasis upon substantiation: it’s more than possible that this round of advertising tightening will eventually result in yet more confusing and potentially questionable certification schemes springing up to fill that substantiation gap.
In amongst all of this legislative rigmarole it can be difficult to determine what you can and cannot put on a website or in advertising material. My next post will address this area in more detail.
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