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Green consumers buy from green companies: But how do you know?

By Donnie Dann

We are all consumers.  From staples like groceries, transportation, clothing, housing, etc, to the discretionary expenditures such as vacations, entertainment, charitable contributions and the like, we make daily decisions on what and from whom we purchase goods and services.  Obviously our cumulative decisions have a huge impact on the sellers of these products and we can have a profound effect on production, distribution, packaging, point of sale merchandising, etc., be they eco-friendly or not.

Ten years ago when I wrote an Alert on this subject, merchants who claimed to be ‘green’ or have minimal detrimental environmental impact were relatively few.  Today there are so many companies making these claims that late last year the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) proposed an update to guidelines they first issued in 1992 (with revisions in 1996 and 1998) requiring marketers to avoid making misleading environmental claims.  The obvious goal is to give consumers a much greater level of protection and reliability in their purchasing.

To quote from the FTC website, “Vague or general claims may sound warm and fuzzy, but generally offer little information of value. Claims that a product or service is “environmentally friendly,” “environmentally safe,” “environmentally preferable,” or “eco-safe” or labels that contain environmental seals — say, a picture of the globe with the words “Earth Smart” around it — are unhelpful for two reasons: First, all products, packaging and services have some environmental impact, although some may have less than others. Second, these phrases alone do not provide the specific information you need to compare products, packaging, or services on their environmental merits. Look for claims that give some substance to the claim — the additional information that explains why the product is environmentally friendly or has earned a special ”seal.”  For further details see the Federal Trade Commission’s announcement of the revised Green Guidelines

As of this writing these proposed guidelines have not been finalized but are expected to be shortly.  When they are, when a marketer claims his product is made from or provides “renewable energy”, “renewable materials”, and/or “carbon offsets” an end user can check the FTC’s Green Guides for verification.   Commenting on the current revision, John Leibowitz, chairman of the commission said “This is really about trying to cut through the confusion that consumers have when they are buying a product and that businesses have when they are selling a product.”

Let’s hope this new clarity results in wise buying, packaging, distribution, warehousing and consuming, and ‘Greenwashing’, as described in a previous newsletter  is largely history.

–Donnie Dann is a Highland Park resident and member of many environment-related boards.

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