When the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) updated the Green Guides in October 2012, it specifically set forth its objections to the misuse of environmental certifications and seals of approval (or logos). The FTC made it clear that from the consumer’s perspective, such certifications and seals of approval are often misunderstood. FTC believes consumers fail to understand the limitations such seals have on evaluating the environmental attributes of a product.

Unbiased, scientific support?

Manufacturers of products should take a closer look at the types of certifications and seals of approval it places on their products and packages. The FTC considers it deceptive to suggest that a product, package or service has been endorsed or certified by an independent third party unless there is nonbiased scientific data, that is accepted in the scientific community that supports that assertion. In addition, the manufacturer must be aware that obtaining third party certification does not relieve the manufacturer of its obligation to ensure that the advertisement of the product are supported by scientific evidence, and that the seal is consistent with the message being communicated by the certification.

Implied Environmental Benefits

If the seal of approval suggests that a product has an overall general environmental benefit without any clarification as to the basis for that certification, this is seen as suspect by the FTC. To avoid such a claim of deception, the manufacturer should, in a clear and prominent way, convey that the seal refers to a specific or limited environmental benefit and it is not an approval of a broad general benefit. This qualifying language must appear within the advertisement and it is not sufficient to refer the consumer to a website for additional details.

Trade Associations

The manufacturer may also need to clarify that the seal was obtained from an industry trade association. If the trade group uses an independent certifier that consents to established testing procedures with an independent auditor, then the use of an industry trade association’s certification may be proper. If the seal of approval refers to an industry association, it must be clear that the product has been certified by an industry certifier, and that certification was not awarded by an independent certifying association.

Industry organizations that control the certification process may be considered by the FTC as deceptive seals of approval. If there is a material connection between the company and the certifying organization it would be deceptive to not reveal this relationship to the consumer. There should be no material connection between the product and the company issuing the seal of approval, without revealing the connection.

Qualifying Statements

Another type of certification and seal of approval that can create confusion among consumers are those issued by membership only associations. The FTC suggests that the use of such seals could be deceptive and that a membership seal should be accompanied with a qualifying statement. An example of such qualifying language is; “our company is a member of the EcoFriendly Association, but it has not evaluated this product”.

So when in doubt, always have sufficient independent scientific data to support any advertisements, even when a product was awarded a seal of approval.