Advertising Compliance Service

Going Green Without Giving Up Your Greenbacks

by Christie L. Grymes and Christopher M. Loeffler*


It's no surprise that in our current economic condition consumer spending is down. Your company budget, and especially your marketing dollars, have to work more efficiently than ever before. While consumers may be watching their purse strings, "green" products are prevalent, and green marketing claims can be an effective way to break out of the clutter. Marketers must ensure, however, that those claims do not overstate the "green" benefits or they could face regulatory investigations or challenges from competitors, which cause further budgetary strain.


The Federal Trade Commission has established national standards for green marketing claims in the Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly called the Green Guides, located at 16 C.F.R. Part 260. Although the Green Guides are not laws or administrative rules, they provide instruction on how the FTC views environmental marketing claims and how it will interpret its authority to regulate unfair or deceptive acts or practices under Section 5 of the FTC Act when examining environmental marketing claims. The Green Guides currently identify four general principles that apply to all environmental marketing claims:

In addition to the general principles which are applicable to all environmental marketing claims, the Green Guides provide specific instruction for certain types of green claims. These include general environmental benefit claims, degradable/biodegradable/photodegradable, compostable, recyclable, recycled content, and ozone safe and ozone friendly. An important consideration to keep in mind is that every environmental marketing claim about an objective quality, feature, or attribute of a product or service, whether it is expressly stated or implied by the advertisement, must be substantiated. If there is not adequate substantiation for the claim, the FTC or a state Attorney General may assert that the claim is deceptive. Key takeaway points for the specific green claims identified in the Green Guides include:


The Green Guides were first published in 1992 and later revised in 1998, but the Commission is currently reviewing them in light of the increased marketing of environmental products and packaging and the use of new types of environmental marketing claims that are not specifically covered by the current guides. The Commission has noted that "green" advertising claims such as "renewable," "carbon neutral," "carbon footprint," "sustainable," and "bio-based" have become more prevalent in recent years.

In support of this review process, the Commission has held three workshops addressing various aspects of current environmental marketing claims including:

Editor's Note: See the article, FTC Proposes Revised Green Guides for more information about FTC's recent proposal to revise these Guides


While the FTC is busy reviewing the Green Guides and considering whether it will revise them to address today's marketplace, there is no time for businesses to rest on their laurels. The Commission is still actively enforcing the concepts covered by the Green Guides via Section 5 of the FTC Act. For example, the Commission recently settled claims with Kmart Corp., Tender Corp. and Dyna-E International related to alleged false or deceptive claims that their products were biodegradable. The Commission alleged that because the products are customarily disposed of in landfills, incinerators, or recycling facilities, it is impossible for the products to biodegrade within a reasonably short period of time because of a lack of oxygen and sunlight. Each of the companies reached a settlement with the Commission, agreeing not to make deceptive "degradable" product claims and agreeing to have competent and reliable evidence to support environmental product claims. The settlement with Tender also requires it to disclose whether any biodegradable claim applies to the product, the packaging, or a component of either.


The FTC has not established a timeline for its review of the Green Guides or whether it will hold additional workshops, but based on the emphasis placed on this type of marketing activity, marketers should pay close attention to the developments as the Commission considers making revisions to its existing environmental marketing policies. Marketers should ensure that their environmental marketing claims are clearly presented to consumers, tailored to the specific attribute that the business is touting, and supported by adequate substantiation.


* Christie Grymes is a partner in the Advertising and Marketing practice at the law firm Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, and Chris Loeffler is an associate in the firm's Advertising and Marketing group. They help clients communicate their products' environmental and health benefits while staying within the legal boundaries that govern such green-marketing claims. The firm regularly works with business-to-business and business-to-consumer entities, including national advertisers, direct marketers, consumer product retailers, distributors, and manufacturers with interests in legal issues and trends in environmental marketing and advertising law. For more information, visit, or contact Christie and Chris directly at and


Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, commonly called the Green Guides, 16 C.F.R. Part 260.

Other Green Advertising and Green-Related Websites


Additional Information

Complying with Environmental Marketing Guides: FTC Publication

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has the power to bring law enforcement actions against false or misleading marketing claims, including environmental or "green" marketing claims. The FTC issued its Environmental Guides, often referred to as the "Green Guides," in 1992, and revised them most recently in 1998. The Guides indicate how the Commission will apply Section 5 of the FTC Act, which bars unfair or deceptive acts or practices, to environmental marketing claims.

Advertising Law-Related Articles

"12 Key Advertising-Related Laws You Should Know"
This article examines 12 key advertising-related laws that you should know about before you review your ads to make sure your ads don't run afoul of these laws.
"10 Things to Do So Your Ads Comply With Advertising Laws"
This article discusses 10 key areas you should look at when you're reviewing your advertising to determine whether it's in compliance with advertising law's many requirements.
"10 Tactics to Use So Your Ads Comply with Advertising Laws"
This article presents 10 tactics you could use to help your ads comply with the many laws, rules, regulations and guidelines that may affect your advertisements.
"10 Major Advertising Law-Related Concepts"
This article is a useful review of 10 key areas you should look at when you're reviewing your advertising to determine whether it's in compliance with the numerous laws, rules, regulations and guidelines that may affect your ads.