The American Association of Advertising Agencies, better known within the industry as the 4A’s, has released a comprehensive guide to eco-friendly messaging that may allow marketers to better serve consumers who are increasingly interested in sustainability and environmental consciousness.
Backed by expert commentary from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Federal Trade Commission and leading U.S. brands, the new “Greenwashing in Advertising” paper tackles both best practices to win brownie points with the public and must-know rules governing what advertising can tout about a product or brand’s environmental benefits.
“The goal of putting out the paper is not just for legal departments that are already aware of a lot of this,” says Alison Pepper, executive VP of government relations at the 4A’s and architect of the guide. “It’s to help agencies and brands realize that there actually are a lot of rules out there about what environmental claims you can make.”
Prior to the 4A’s publishing of “Greenwashing in Advertising,” which includes a complementary video series, Pepper says that environmental rules for marketers in the U.S. were “piecemeal”: a mix of federal and state regulations, different statutes for different products, and ever-changing guidance from a host of government agencies.
Foundational to marketers’ messaging in this space are the FTC Green Guides, a tome of rules first issued in the 1990s that spell out specifics on everything from non-toxic claims to “ecolabels” such as Energy Star to recycled content ratings. For example, if a product says it’s biodegradable, that means it must biodegrade completely within one year.
But a critical point to the one-stop-shop report is that the FTC is likely to revise its Green Guides soon—Pepper estimates the process will begin in the next six to 12 months—as many environmental stakeholders have been calling for updates in the years since the rules were last amended in 2012.
“A decade is a long time to go by in this field,” Pepper says.