Institute for Policy Integrity

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Public comments on Green Labels

December 13, 2010

Lately, labels on eco-friendly products have proliferated. It seems like almost everything is marked as “green,” “compostable,” “free of” something, or made with renewable materials. But who makes sure all these items are as gentle on the environment as they say they are?

In 1998 The Federal Trade Commission’s updated its Green Guides—a set of instructions designed to help companies avoid making misleading eco-claims. Of course, much has changed since then and the labels are now being updated.

On Friday, we submitted comments with some recommendations for the Green Guides.

Among our suggestions is that the guides should be updated every three years to account for rapidly changing technology. This periodic review should incorporate behavioral economics as a way of better understanding how consumers respond to what they’re seeing on the shelves.

Our comments also laud the renewed commitment to prosecuting companies that make false or deceptive green claims on their packaging. Consistent enforcement removes a lot of confusion on the part of industry actors and better protects consumers from misleading claims.

We also note that there would be many advantages of teaming up with other agencies that are working on environmental labeling. Examples: the Department of Energy has proposed changes to the Energy Guide appliance labeling program; the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are looking at fuel economy labels on cars; and last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started a rulemaking on its tire fuel efficiency consumer information program.

Unifying and coordinating these labels would save money and help consumers make smart choices. For more on that, see our project update on fuel economy labels.

Filed under Climate Change and Energy Policy, Public Comments