Companies know that clients prefer doing business with environmentally responsible partners. If a company is doing something to reduce plastic waste, save water or limit carbon emissions, it’s good for the bottom line to publicize those efforts.
Caveat: Claims of being “green” or “100% recyclable” can backfire – badly. Environmental groups and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are working in tandem to make companies that “greenwash” the public pay a price.
For example: The Sierra Club sued three beverage manufacturers that label their plastic bottles as 100% recyclable – Coca-Cola (bottler of Dasani water), BlueTriton Brands (Poland Spring and Deer Park) and Niagara Bottling.
At least 28% of the beverage companies’ bottle content is made with polyethylene terephthalate, which is largely “unrecyclable due to contamination and processing loss,” while the labels are made from No. 5 plastic, which isn’t recyclable, according to the Sierra Club.
In a recent FTC case, Kohl’s and Walmart settled with the FTC for $2.5 million and $3 million (respectively) for selling textile products labeled as being made from bamboo that in fact were made of rayon. The FTC goes after smaller manufacturers for similar greenwashing claims for less severe fines.
Federal ‘Green Guides’ is a must-read
Companies that manufacture and sell in any state can be fined – and suffer bad publicity – for violating the FTC’s Green Guides (GGs), which provide definitions and parameters for marketing products as “biodegradable” or “carbon-free.”
It pays to double check the GGs closely when rolling out a product or advertising your services: FTC fines can be steep, especially for companies that lack the deep pockets of a Coca-Cola or Walmart.
The GGs say any “product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated or otherwise recovered from the waste stream through an established recycling program for further use in manufacturing or assembling another item.”
Case in point: Keurig Green Mountain was recently hit with a class-action lawsuit because it described its single-serve plastic coffee pods as “recyclable.” Keurig’s labeling tells users to “check locally” about how and where to recycle pods.
The problem? According to the GGs, recycling facilities for a product or package must be available to 60% or more of consumers where it’s sold. The citizens’ groups that sued Keurig said the majority of recycling plants don’t want or take single-use coffee pods.
To keep off the radar of activist groups that like to sue as well as the FTC, it’s best to ensure labeling and marketing is always on the mark. Terms that the FTC are likely to investigate include:
- carbon offsets
- certification and seals of approval
- ozone-safe or ozone-friendly
- recycled content
- renewable energy or materials, and
- source reduction.