We’ve all witnessed how the rising popularity of all things green has brought an onslaught of greenwashing and misleading claims, especially among manufacturers touting their products. But according to a panel of experts presenting at the recent International Builders’ Show, both manufacturers and builders should use caution when marketing their products and services as “green,” especially as government officials and consumers are starting to take action against exaggerated and false claims.
Patrick Perrone of law firm K&L Gates in Newark, N.J., said lawsuits based on green marketing typically come from three areas: the Federal Trade Commission (FTC); a consumer who is not satisfied that a product meets its claims and sues for breach of contract; or a competitor who accuses another company of false advertising.
“Anyone involved in marketing green products or buildings should be familiar with the FTC’s ‘Green Guides,’” advised Perrone. The government agency uses the recently released guidelines to determine if marketers are engaging in false advertising, but it is also a helpful tool for pros to understand how to properly promote green products and homes. The FTC also evaluates marketing by looking at it from the buyers’ point of view: What would a consumer reasonably believe your advertising claims mean?
In addition to advising green building professionals to consult the “Green Guides,” Perrone offered the following recommendations to ensure that your green messages aren’t misleading:
1. Substantiate all green claims with comparable and reliable evidence. “If you can’t prove it’s true, then you shouldn’t be making those claims,” Perrone advised. Consumer health and safety is particularly hard to prove. Reference reputable third-party certifications.
2. Environmental claims should be specific. For example, for a green product, does the claim refer to the product, the packaging, or both?
3. Avoid broad and vague environmental claims such as “environmentally friendly” or “healthy.” Ask yourself, what does it really mean? Avoid these types of descriptions unless you qualify them, such as “This product/home is environmentally friendly because ...”
4. Don’t make comparative environmental claims without identifying the basis of the comparison.
5. Don’t make “exaggerated feature” claims or overstate the attributes or benefits. This includes over-hyping the green attributes of the product while ignoring the “eco-negatives.”
For additional counsel, there are a growing number of legal experts focusing on and specializing in environmental marketing claims.
No matter what, don’t assume that you’re immune from scrutiny if you’re simply passing on others’ marketing information—keep the guidelines in mind not only for the homes you sell, but for the green products you specify. Research manufacturers’ claims and ensure they also are following guidelines for third-party certification and substantiation.
“You as the builder are the first target,” Perrone warned.