"They're all legitimate companies but have stepped over the line," said James Kohm, associate director of the agency's Enforcement Division. "Consumers interpret those messages like they are likely to achieve these results."
According to the FTC, the manufacturers and sellers pledged particular savings. For example, manufacturer Serious Energy said its windows " pay for themselves in energy savings alone in eight years or we will pay the difference."
Valerie Jenkins, VP-marketing at Serious, said it has been revising its message in light of the investigation and allegations. "It's just been about clarifying our message to our consumers," she said. "When you're dealing with an environmental product, some people see drastic changes and some don't. They're just asking us to be more clear, instead of saying you're going to save 'this much' or saying 'you're going to save.' "
Serious Energy has redirected its marketing strategy to "underpromise and overdeliver," Ms. Jenkins said. For example, the company now lists different benefits, such as ultraviolet-ray protection and home-temperature maintenance.
Ms. Jenkins and Mr. Kohm disagreed on consumers' role in energy conservation and savings."Our windows are energy-efficient, but there are other things you can do as well," Ms. Jenkins said. "So people are getting energy-efficient windows but increasing their energy use elsewhere. They're not magic, they're a complement."
The FTC didn't include changes in energy consumption because its investigation involved things a manufacturer or seller should take into account in calculating savings, Mr. Kohm said, adding that a substantiated claim would consider factors such as wall-to-window ratio, number of windows and location.
A company must be placed under administrative order before the FTC imposes fines. The settlement then serves more as a warning than a penalty. Mr. Kohm said. the companies involved have "all been fairly cooperative."