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Green Is The New Black: Legal Considerations for Being Eco-Chic

Green Is The New Black: Legal Considerations for Being Eco-Chic

In honor of Earth Day on April 22, this month’s post will discuss the legal framework in which fashion can properly do its part in keeping our earth healthy. Recently, more fashion designers are using the terms green, eco-friendly, and sustainable to describe their designs.  In fact, a quick Google search brings up several webpages devoted to introducing the general public to the “must-know” environmentally friendly fashion lines, such as Organic by John Patrick, Edun, and Loomstate.  While this attempt at being green is commendable, it is imperative that designers that aspire to this understand how to properly market their clothing as eco-friendly.

In 1992, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) initially released the Green Guides (and revised them again in 1996 and 1998) to instruct marketers how to avoid making false and misleading statements about the environmental benefits of their product.  A most recent version of the Green Guides was released in 2012.  The Guides serve as general principles for which the FTC will decide if green marketing is deceptive or misleading under Section 5 of the FTC Act.  It should be noted that the Guides are just that—guides, and not rules or regulations.   Market frs found to be engaging in deceptive marketing practices can be subject to fines, and thus, it is essential that they clearly understand how to be responsible in their advertising.

 

The Green Guides are based on four general guidelines:

  • Qualifications and disclosures should be made using clear and understandable language.
  • Marketers should identify which parts of the product contain environmentally-friendly qualities.
  • Marketers should not amplify the environmental benefits of a product if such benefit is minor.
  • Comparative claims should be explained clearly in order to avoid confusing consumers.

 

There are four major features of the 2012 Green Guides.

General environmental benefit claims

 

Do not make general and broad claims about the environmental impact of your product, such as “green” or “eco-friendly.”  If you do, qualify the language and explain how it benefits the environment.  In doing so, make sure that the benefit is significant.

 

Certifications and seals of approvals 

Even though a product has a seal or certification, you still must be able to back up your environmental claims.  Advertising must also disclose to customers any relationship to the certifying body that may affect the certification.

 

New terms introduced into Guides

The 2012 Guides discuss new terms that consumers did not widely use in previously released versions of the Guides.

  • If the term “made with renewable materials” is used, the parts of the product or materials that is renewed must be qualified.  Marketers must also explain which part of the material is renewable and why it is being labeled as such.
  • Marketers describing their product as “made with renewable energy” may only do so if they have a renewable energy certificate (REC) to prove energy use.  If not, they must make qualifications and clearly identify the source of renewable energy, such as solar or wind.

 

Clarified terms that were already in the Guides

  • Biodegradable- Items must degrade in a year.  If not, qualify it.
  • Recycled-Materials are recycled if they have been taken from waste either during the manufacturing process or after consumers have used them.  If a product is only partly made from recyclable material, that should be explained.
  • Non-toxic- The product must not be toxic to humans or the environment, and the use of the term must accompany language explaining how it is not toxic. 

 

For more detailed information on the Green Guides, please visit http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/media-resources/truth-advertising/green-guides .

 

Disclosure:  This article is not legal advice.  There are no attorney-client relationships formed by this article or any comments to this article.

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