Archive for the ‘Greenwashing’ Category

Carbon Neutral Coffee: May Both Your Beans And Your Marketing Claims Be Green

Photo by איתן. Some rights reserved.

Like coffee? Well, duh. (I write this from Seattle, WA, so excuse my assumptions.)

But most eco-conscious consumers know that every fragrant, tasty, and imported cup comes at an environmental cost. Last year, a Canadian coffee company commissioned a study that was used to calculate the carbon footprint of a single person’s coffee consumption (based on an average 2.6 cups/day). The study considered every step in the coffee-making process, from farming, roasting, and transporting the beans to boiling the water in your kitchen and eventually tossing the used grounds. The findings? This fortifying habit generates an eye-opening 35 kilograms of CO2 annually (comparable to driving a car about 105 miles).

The environmental impact leaves a lot to be desired, though it nicely sets the stage for companies who would like to work towards – and market to customers who strive for – carbon neutrality.

Enter Coopedota R.L. Earlier this week, the 800 farmer coffee cooperative in Costa Rica announced that after 12 years working towards carbon neutrality, their efforts had finally paid off – they are reportedly the first of their kind to export this certifiably “carbon neutral” coffee.

The certification comes in the form of PAS 2060, a set of materials developed by British independent standards-setter BSI that “allows organizations to ensure their carbon neutrality claims are correct and gain customers’ confidence.” While PAS 2060, which was launched in April of 2010, may be one of few private standards to be recognized internationally, no formal international certification scheme currently exists.

And what is carbon neutrality? Generally, “carbon neutral” describes an entity whose greenhouse gas emissions net to zero, usually by both decreasing carbon emissions as well as sequestering or offsetting an equivalent amount of carbon, or purchasing carbon credits to cover the difference. However, according to the FTC, no uniform definition of the term exists (though I’m sure The CarbonNeutral Company, who purportedly first coined and registered the term in 1998 would disagree).

In the states, we’re still far from any kind of national standard or certification scheme. However, the FTC is making progress towards developing federal regulations that dictate how products can use marketing claims of “carbon neutrality.” The FTC’s Green Guides cover environmental marketing generally, but it’s only in the past few years that consumers and marketers alike have clamored for more specific guidance on carbon neutrality claims. As we reported last October, the FTC is currently in the process of updating the Green Guides to address consumer feedback and to reflect changes in the marketplace.

You can see section VI.E (starting on page 166) of the FTC’s proposal for a discussion of the proposed changes (and initial feedback) relating to carbon offsets and carbon neutrality, or you can jump straight to page 201 for the actual proposed additions to the Green Guides regarding carbon offsets. This language, once approved, will eventually be codified at 16 CFR 260.5.

In the meantime, ease some of your consumer guilt by following these simple rules.

Recycled Content Doesn’t Have to Be Boring

If, like me, you grew up in Seattle, you probably recycle without thinking. To not recycle is blasphemous. It’s also against the law.

Recycling: It's easy to do.

But that’s Seattle. Surprisingly, the EPA is not in a position to establish federal regulations mandating recycling. The EPA publishes information, guidance and provides technical support to encourage recycling programs, but, ultimately, it is up to state and local governments to regulate recycling of municipal solid waste. Currently the most the EPA offers, regulation-wise, is a recommendation to states that “source separation, recycling and resource conservation should be utilized whenever technically and economically feasible.” (40 CFR 256.31)

Some governments offer refunds for recycled beverage containers, others ban the disposal of recyclable items into landfills, while others simply set recycling goals for their state or city. Given that recycling programs vary from place to place, you should always review the rules and restrictions of your own municipality before tossing a given item into the recycling bin. Even products that are stamped with the ubiquitous recycling symbol are not necessarily accepted at all facilities.

Ah, the recycling or “three-chasing-arrows” symbol. Ever wonder about it? The original design was envisioned in 1970 by USC student Gary Anderson in response to a contest sponsored by the Container Corporation of America. The symbol is not trademarked, but its use is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

And that’s where the federal government steps in with regards to recycling. The FTC’s Green Guide addresses environmental advertising and marketing practices, and it specifically calls out recycling symbols. The clause on recyclability states, “A product or package should not be marketed as recyclable unless it can be collected, separated or otherwise recovered from the solid waste stream for reuse, or in the manufacture or assembly of another package or product, through an established recycling program can be substantiated, the claim should be qualified to indicate what portions are recyclable.” They give the following example:


A nationally marketed 8 oz. plastic cottage-cheese container displays the Society of the Plastics Industry (SPI) code (which consists of a design of arrows in a triangular shape containing a number and abbreviation identifying the component plastic resin) on the front label of the container, in close proximity to the product name and logo. The manufacturer’s conspicuous use of the SPI code in this manner constitutes a recyclability claim. Unless recycling facilities for this container are available to a substantial majority of consumers or communities, the claim should be qualified to disclose the limited availability of recycling programs for the container.

The SPI code that the FTC refers to is part of the SPI resin identification coding system, which was developed by the Society of the Plastics Industry in 1988 and is placed on plastic products to identify the polymer type and to help separate the different types for purposes of recycling. According to SPI, the code was not developed to be an indicator of “recyclability,” though certain polymer types are more widely recyclable in certain areas.

SPI codes are used internationally, though that hasn’t stopped some countries from developing their own versions of the recycling symbol. Below I offer some choice selections.

The Green Dot

The trademarked Green Dot is used in Europe to convey producer responsibility and efficient packaging waste management, though doesn’t have any bearing on whether the product itself is recyclable.

Japanese symbol for recyclable paper

Japanese recycling symbols use two or three of the familiar chasing arrows, though the shape these arrows form can vary according to the type of recyclable material.

A Taiwanese recycling symbol

This neon green Taiwanese recycling symbol is guaranteed to catch your eye.

And perhaps I’m just feeling patriotic, but it’s hard to argue that this US federal recycling logo isn’t the most regal of them all:

FTC gives greenwashers the blues

Photo by Rachmaninoff. Some rights reserved.

In what no doubt will be seen as a win for consumers and a pain for marketers everywhere, the FTC yesterday took further steps towards cleaning up “greenwashing” in corporate advertising by publishing proposed changes to their “Green Guides.” The changes are intended to tighten up existing FTC guidance on environmental marketing claims.

“Greenwashing” (a portmanteau of “green” and “whitewash”) is a term that developed to describe corporate overuse of green palettes, floristic imagery, and eco-tastic claims that help brand products or corporate practices as environmentally friendly, playing on consumers’ increasing desire to buy environmentally responsible products. The FTC’s Green Guides were first issued in 1992 to help marketers ensure that any environmental claims they were making would not be construed as misleading.

The FTC cited an increase in potentially deceptive green marketing practices as an impetus for revising the Guides, which have not been updated since 1998. The proposed changes are a result of numerous studies, public meetings and workshops conducted by the FTC over the past three years on topics such as carbon offsets and renewable energy, green packaging, and green buildings. The proposal includes revisions to existing guidance on specific claims, as well new guidance for three claims not currently covered by the Guides. You can read a concise overview of each proposed change, and how it differs from the existing Guides in this FTC summary of the proposal.

While the Guides themselves are not enforceable regulations, they provide guidance on how Section 5 of the FTC Act is likely to be interpreted with respect to environmental claims. Section 5 prohibits deceptive or misleading marketing acts or practices in general. According to a recent Morrison & Foerster Client Alert, the FTC has used the Green Guides in seven lawsuits since Obama took office in 2008 – all enforcing unfair and deceptive advertising laws against environmental marketing claims. The New York Times points out that in 2009, the first enforcement actions in 10 years were brought by the FTC against companies making environmental claims.

Taking into account the FTC’s stricter guidelines and this increased enforcement activity, Morrison & Foerster recommend that companies “develop legal and technical expertise in this area to ensure that claims are specific, appropriately qualified, and adequately supported in advance by competent and reliable evidence.” Or, if you’d like to put up a fight, the FTC is accepting comments on the proposed Guides until December 10, 2010.

Related studies, press releases and comments on the Green Guides can be found here.

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