How to Keep Your Green Efforts Out of Red Zone

Stick to the Facts, Mind the FTC

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Going Green? Plant Deep Roots

After years without a green-marketing dispute, advertising's self-regulatory organization is handling a growing number of cases over environmental claims -- six last year alone.

The National Advertising Review Board, essentially an alternative to litigation for marketers wishing to dispute each others' claims, has ruled on cases such as whether Starbucks can defend its fair-trade claims. (It can.)
Andrea Levine, director of the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus
Andrea Levine, director of the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus

Andrea Levine, director of the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said she expects more cases this year, but she's not predicting a repeat of the early '90s, when brands regularly battled each other on ozone-friendly and recycling claims.

If your competitor doesn't challenge your environmental claims through the NAD, you likely won't run into trouble with the Federal Trade Commission. Despite a rash of cases between 1992 and 2000 -- 37 in all -- there has not been a single case since.

But if you want to make sure to stay out of a regulatory mess, check out the FTC's "green guides" on the agency's website. Environmental claims fall under section five of the FTC Act, which "prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices," said Laura DeMartino, assistant director of the FTC's enforcement division.

Perhaps most important, if you don't want to end up in a war of words with a competitor over an environmental claim, stick to the facts. "Don't overstate the environmental benefit, and don't falsely denigrate your competitor's product," Ms. Levine advised.
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