Paint companies Sherwin-Williams and PPG Architectural Finishes have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they misled consumers to believe that some of their paints are free of potentially harmful VOCs.
The two companies agreed to settlements with the FTC requiring them to stop making the allegedly deceptive claim that their Dutch Boy Refresh and Pure Performance interior paints, respectively, contain “zero” VOCs. According to the agency, while this may be true for the uncolored “base” paints, it is not true for tinted paint, which typically has much higher levels of the compounds, and which consumers usually buy.
The FTC’s administrative complaints against Sherwin-Williams and PPG charge the companies with violating the FTC Act by making false and unsubstantiated claims that that their paints contain “zero VOCs” after tinting. The manufacturers make their “zero-VOC” claims through a variety of media, including brochures, point-of-purchase marketing, product labels, and the Internet.
The FTC provides guidance to marketers through its recently revised Green Guides and polices the market to ensure that environmental claims are not misleading, says David Vladeck, director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.
The proposed consent orders settling the charges against Sherwin-Williams and PPG prohibit the companies from claiming that their paints contain “zero VOCs,” unless, after tinting, they have a VOC level of zero grams per liter, or the companies have competent and reliable scientific evidence that the paint contains no more than trace levels of VOCs.
Alternately, the orders would allow the companies to clearly and prominently disclose that the “zero VOC” claims apply only to the base paint, and that depending on the consumer’s color choice, the VOC level may rise. In cases where the tinted paint’s VOC level could be 50 grams per liter or more, the proposed orders require the companies to disclose that the VOC level may increase “significantly” or “up to [the highest possible VOC level after tinting].” In addition, the orders prohibit the companies from making any VOC claim or other environmental claim unless it is true and not misleading, and unless the companies have competent scientific evidence to back it up.
Finally, the proposed orders prohibit both Sherwin-Williams and PPG from providing anyone, including independent retailers or distributors, with the means of making any of the prohibited deceptive claims. The orders also would require the companies to send letters to retailers requiring them to remove all ads for the covered paints that have “zero VOC” claims and putting corrective stickers on current paint cans making these claims.