FTC Releases New Guidance for Ecolabels

Posted 2 October 2012 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Ecolabel News | No Comments |

The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released their long-awaited update to the Green Marketing Guides yesterday.

Given the influence of US markets, these guidelines will have implications for companies, ecolabels, certifiers and advertisers worldwide, and future posts will provide some more context and analysis.

A new section can be found on pages 10-15 that addresses ‘certifications and seals of approval’. Where the 1998 guide covered the topic only via an example, in this iteration a new section is devoted to the issue “given the widespread use of certifications and seals and their potential for deception”.

The five guidelines related to certifications and seals of approval are:

(a) It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service has been endorsed or certified by an independent third party.

(b) A marketer’s use of the name, logo, or seal of approval of a third-party certifier or organization may be an endorsement. Therefore, they should meet the criteria for endorsements provided in the FTC’s Endorsement Guides.

(c) Third-party certification does not eliminate a marketer’s obligation to ensure that it has substantiation for all claims reasonably communicated by the certification.

(d) A marketer’s use of an environmental certification or seal of approval likely conveys that the product offers a general environmental benefit (see § 260.4) if the certification or seal does not convey the basis for the certification or seal, either through the name or some other means. Because it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate general environmental benefit claims, marketers should not use environmental certifications or seals that do not convey the basis for the certification.

(e) Marketers can qualify general environmental benefit claims conveyed by environmental certifications and seals of approval to prevent deception about the nature of the environmental benefit being asserted. To avoid deception, marketers should use clear and prominent qualifying language that clearly conveys that the certification or seal refers only to specific and limited benefits.

The more detailed “Statement of Basis and Purpose” supplement works through how and why this route was taken, with a description of the draft text, a summary of the types of comments received (and the fun bit – how organisations specifically commented), followed by their analysis and final guidance.

The New York Times offers an assessment and summary here. Now that the new guidelines have been issued, attention will likely turn to both how environmental claims can be best integrated into decision making based on this new guidance, and how enforcement is likely to unfold.

Organic means Organic at Whole Foods

Posted 25 September 2012 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Ecolabel News | No Comments |

We’ve long been impressed with just how many ecolabels you can find at Whole Foods (aka ecolabel-land). But once you stepped from food to the personal care aisle, if you were paying attention, it seemed that some of the rules started shifting around. Organic was sometimes USDA Organic and sometimes not, and the rules for % ingredients were also kind of jumbled.

Recognizing this issue two years ago, Whole Foods has been diligently working with their suppliers to correct this situation and start to bring some greater cohesion to the jumble of claims.

And a Whole Foods press release today announces that now all personal care products are in compliance with the company’s guidelines requiring all personal care products making a front-of-label organic claim to be certified either to USDA organic standards or the NSF/ANSI 305 organic personal care standard. More specifically, the policy mandates:

  • Products making an “Organic” product claim − Must be certified to the USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) standard for organic (>95%) products.
  • Products making a “Made with Organic [Ingredient]” claim − Must be certified to the USDA’s National Organic Program standard for Made with Organic (>70%) products.
  • Products making a “Contains Organic [Ingredient]” claim − Must be certified to the NSF/ANSI 305 Organic Personal Care Standard.
  • Products listing an organic ingredient in the “Ingredients:” listing − Organic ingredient must be certified to the USDA NOP standard.

Good news for consumers, good news for those suppliers meeting these two standards, and for both of the USDA and NSF/ANSI standards working to identify better personal care claims.


Defining what’s credible – ISEAL launches consultation on “Credibility Principles”

Posted 6 September 2012 by Trevor Bowden to Ecolabel News | No Comments |

ISEAL Alliance – an alliance of many of the world’s leading sustainability standards systems – is creating a set of “Credibility Principles” for voluntary standards. Ecolabel Index is participating in this process, and our colleague Anastasia O’Rourke is honored to be on the Credibility Principles Steering Committee.

This video gives an overview of ISEAL’s objectives with the Principles:

Credibility Principles Consultation from ISEAL Alliance on Vimeo.

Some of the topics under consideration include the degree to which a standard and or ecolabel should insist on 3rd party verification, and whether or not stakeholders have the ability to participate in the setting of the standard. The draft Credibility Principles are open for consultation through December 7 2012.

A global consultation process has been launched, and the next meeting is in Washington, DC on October 9 2012. Broad participation from the standards community is welcome, with future consultations planned for São Paulo, London, Beijing and Delhi.

P&G and Green Good Housekeeping

Posted 31 August 2012 by Anastasia O'Rourke to Ecolabel News | No Comments |

P&G – the  largest consumer packaged goods company in the world today – announced that they have selected the Green Good Housekeeping Seal for some of its major brands. So far, two big products have earned the green label – Pampers Cruisers diapers for toddlers and Tide Coldwater Laundry Detergent.

This is in addition to P&G’s Future Friendly label which is a self-designated label for P&G products that “deliver a meaningful environmental benefit in one or more of the following categories: energy, water or waste” and that “…these reductions and environmental benefits must be supported by sound, transparent science and substantiated data.”

One of the reasons the Green Good Housekeeping Seal was chosen was that consumers recognize the label, apparently.

We suspect it’s also a differentiation strategy – after all, only companies who advertise in Good Housekeeping can apply for the label, and only those who also pass the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval can go for the green version.

For non-American audiences, you might be interested to know that Good Housekeeping Magazine (owned by Hearst) has been around since 1885 (yes, that’s 1885!) and that since 1909 it has offered a “Seal of Approval” guaranteeing the products with a warrantee that: “If any product that bears our Seal or is advertised in this issue* (with certain exceptions) proves to be defective within two years from the date it was first sold to a consumer by an authorized retailer, we, Good Housekeeping, will replace or repair the product or refund the purchase price.” As such, the green “Seal of Approval” certainly ticks at least some of the credibility boxes with consumers.

But it does beg the question as to whether the environmental performance requirements of the green Seal of Approval will be similarly backed up in the same way by either Good Housekeeping, or companies like P&G. Perhaps the more interesting question is: Would it even be possible to do so?

Let’s take paper-products as an example. The Green Good Housekeeping Seal’s Criteria for Paper Goods states that paper fibre must be from a certified sustainable source. But what certification? And what standards are recognized? Depending on the answer to that, you will get a different ability to actually trace back the source and know where it came from.  Those of us who have exposure to diapers on a daily basis have a pretty good idea of what is “in” a diaper at the end of its life (apologies)…but as for knowing what is made from, who knows?

Presumably P&G knows the answer to that question using its Supplier Sustainability Scorecard . Perhaps they might also let us consumers know too?