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FTC to investigate environmental claims.

FTC To Investigate Environmental Claims

federal agency joins with states to investigate "environmentally friendly" product claims; companies are being asked to substantiate these claims with proof INDA, Association of the Nonwovens Fabrics Industry, has learned of an investigation launched by the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC) into the advertising claims of the "green" or "environmentally friendly" products that have recently reached the market. The FTC will be working on the issue with a task force from the National Association of Attorneys General and is expected to ask a number of companies to substantiate their advertising claims.

Consumer Interest At Issue

FTC Chairperson Janet Steiger, addressing the Consumer Federation of America's Consumer Assembly 1990 in March, announced that the FTC will be scrutinizing the increasing number of "green claims" of products advertised as being "biodegradable," photodegradable," "recyclable" or otherwise "environmentally friendly."

According to Chairperson Steiger, the government's law enforcement role in consumer protection should be straightforward: Firms that market their products honestly and fairly should be able to compete without unnecessary government interference. But firms that market products using unfair or deceptive claims or practices should anticipate "swift corrective action."

Ms. Steiger told the Consumer Federation that the FTC clearly had the responsibility to ensure that all national advertising is free of unfair practices and deceptive or unsubstantiated claims. She then sent a stern warning to manufacturers who advertise their products using unsubstantiated claims that appeal to consumers unjustifiably.

In regard to green products, Ms. Steiger pointed out that truthful information on the environmental impact of products is useful to consumers and can have a considerable impact on the marketplace (since advertising by one company making these claims puts significant pressure on competitors to make similar product improvements). But, according to Chairperson Steiger, consumers who buy environmentally friendly products are generally not capable of judging for themselves whether the products will deliver the promised benefits.

FTC To Work With Attorneys General

The FTC is not working alone on this issue. In fact, according to Chairperson Steiger, the FTC has joined a group of Attorneys General from eight states who have been reviewing the problems of advertising and marketing in the green revolution.

According to Ms. Steiger, there is an enormous opportunity for the FTC to work cooperatively with state agencies. By sharing information and striving for consistency in enforcement rules, the FTC and the states can provide consumer protection while reducing duplicative or inconsistent standards that businesses must follow.

The Attorneys General from eight states involved in this issue (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin) are being lead by Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III. Attorney General Humphrey has referred to the many green claims that manufacturers have been making as "a bit like a tidal wave of hype."

The group's efforts have won national attention and, based on a mid-March public forum sponsored by the task force, the National Association of Attorneys General adopted a resolution requesting that the FTC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) work jointly with states to develop uniform national guidelines for environmental marketing claims.

These guidelines, according to the resolution, should be drawn up with input from environmental and consumer groups, members of business and industry, trade associations and other interested parties.

Next Step

According to staff sources at the FTC, the Commission is in the early stages of its review and at this point it is not committed to any single course of action. The development of national guidelines for environmental marketing claims is one possible avenue of action, as is a requirement that manufacturers be prepared to substantiate the advertising claims of their products. But, according to FTC staff, there are other possible avenues as well and most will be explored before the Commission decides what action to take.
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Title Annotation:Capital Comments; "environmentally friendly" product claims
Author:Mayberry, Peter
Publication:Nonwovens Industry
Date:May 1, 1990
Previous Article:Integrating people and technology.
Next Article:INDEX '90: a timely showcase for worldwide nonwovens.

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