Claims to be Environmentally Friendly Must Be Substantiated


An increasing number of consumers consider a company’s environmental impact when they shop, many are compelled to purchase an environmentally friendly or “green” products. Furthermore, consumers are willing to pay higher prices for goods and services from companies who offer them. Being green, then, is not only good for the environment, it’s good for your bottom line. BBB reminds companies who are or who wish to be “eco-friendly” to ensure all marketing claims are both genuine and qualified.

BBB provides the following guidelines regarding environmental benefit claims. Additional information may be found in the BBB Code of Advertising.

Claims should be qualified, specific, clear, and significant.  Advertisers must possess competent and reliable evidence (often scientific evidence) to support all environmental benefit claims. Qualifications for any claim must be clear, conspicuous and understandable. When an advertiser qualifies a general claim with a specific benefit, the benefit should be significant. Advertisers must not highlight small or unimportant benefits. Unless clear from the context, any environmental claim must specify clearly and conspicuously whether the claim applies to the product, the product’s packaging, a service or just to a portion of the product, package or service.

Degradable claim - Advertisers may make an unqualified degradable claim if they have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the entire product or package will completely break down and return to nature within a reasonably short period of time after customary disposal. For items entering the solid waste stream, advertisers should substantiate that the items completely decompose within one year after customary disposal.

Advertisers must qualify, clearly and conspicuously, degradable claims to the extent necessary to avoid confusion about the product's or package's ability to degrade in the environment where it is customarily disposed or the rate and extent of degradation.

Recycled content claim - Advertisers must not claim that a product or package is recyclable unless it can be collected, separated or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for use or reuse in manufacturing or assembling another product. Advertisers must clearly and conspicuously qualify such claims where necessary, so as to not mislead or confuse consumers as to the availability of recycling facilities in the trade area.

Advertisers must not claim that a product or package contains recycled content unless it is composed of materials that have been recovered or otherwise diverted from the waste stream, either during the manufacturing process or after consumer use.

Advertisers must clearly and conspicuously qualify claims for any products or packages made partly from recycled material, for example, made from 30% recycled material.

Non-toxic claim - Non-toxic claims likely convey that a product, package or service is non-toxic both for humans and for the environment generally. Thus advertisers must either possess competent and reliable scientific evidence that this is the case or clearly and conspicuously qualify the claim to avoid confusion.

Regarding certifications and approvals -  An advertiser’s unqualified use of environmental certifications and seals of approval may imply to consumers that the certificate or seal was awarded by an independent third party. If that certification or seal was not, in fact, awarded by an independent third party, the advertisement must clearly and conspicuously disclose that fact.

Environmental certifications and seals that do not clearly convey the basis for the certification are likely to convey general environmental benefits. Because claims making general environmental benefits should not be used (see section 36.1) advertisers must clearly and conspicuously disclose the specific and limited benefits to which the certificate or seal applies.

For detailed guidance, advertisers in the U.S. should consult the Federal Trade Commission Green Guides. Similarly, in Canada, advertisers should consult CAN/CSA-ISO 14021 - Environmental claims: A guide for industry and advertisers.

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Mechele Mills is the President|CEO for the Better Business Bureau Serving Central East Texas. Prior to her role at BBB, she led and consulted organizations of all sizes, managing operations, sales marketing, and personnel for both the public and private sector. She holds a Bachelor’s in Journalism/PR from the University of Texas at Tyler and a Master’s in Business Administration from Baylor University.

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