Why a crackdown on greenwashing is good news for businesses

Green paint by jennifer l.If you can sell toll roads and disposable food boxes as green, there is no telling which product will get the same green treatment next. I’m thinking hamsters fed on organic food pellets.

This could  get dangerous.

It only takes a few alert consumers with a bent for mayhem to create a public relations disaster, with the marketing unit scrambling to figure out retrospectively what it was about the product that warranted environment-friendly messaging in the first place (picture this with the soundtrack of office phones ringing off their hooks as journalists try to get the scoop).

Now, the US Federal Trade Commission is tightening the screw as  it updates its environmental marketing guidelines for the first time since 1998. The agency’s Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or Green Guides, define terms such as “recyclable” and “biodegradable” and explain how businesses should back up environmental assertions.

Now this is why this should come as good news to businesses. Part of the difficulty in promoting green products is the lack of standards, definitions and reference points. Under some definitions, some argue that any product with some organic ingredient qualifies as green. With the FTC’s souped up, 2010’d Guide, businesses can evaluate their products (do they qualify as recyclable? do we have enough data to demonstrate biodegradability?) and raise the bar.

The FTC’s revamped Green Guides are not a stick. They pave the way for all of us to start speaking the same language when we start defining green products.

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