FTC Considers Greenwashing Crackdown, Fashion Weighs In – WWD


It’s been decades since the Federal Trade Commission advised businesses on how to — lawfully — talk about eco-marketing claims.

First introduced in 1992, the “Green Guides” were designed to help companies make lawful environmental marketing claims while helping the public distinguish green from gab. And there’s a major gray area, as the FTC deliberately decided against guidelines on “sustainability” or “organic” in its Green Guides to avoid overlap with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Organic Program’s organic food guides. This means fashion is largely in the dark — the Guides haven’t been updated since 2012.

In an open commission meeting held Wednesday, the Federal Trade Commission voted unanimously to review the Green Guides. This means the FTC will seek public commentary as part of its standard review process, to update the Guides.

Deceptive claims can “distort” the market and hurt honest companies, as Lina Khan, chair of the FTC, said in the livestream meeting.

Members of the public addressed the Commission prior to the vote, calling for review of the Guides. These groups included the American Chemistry Council, a national trade association which involves the largest stakeholders on plastic packaging, as well as apparel trade groups like The American Apparel and Footwear Association, or AAFA, as well as advocacy organization Politically In Fashion.

Chelsea Murtha, director of sustainability at the AAFA (which represents some 1,000 brands), voted to commence regulatory review of the Green Guides saying that modernity calls for it.

“The sustainability landscape has changed significantly since 2012….Consumers are becoming more skeptical of environmental claims. It would benefit both consumers and businesses to have robust guidance on greenwashing,” Murtha said.

“The launch of the FTC’s Green Guides review is one that many stakeholders have been eagerly awaiting given the proliferation and the growing importance of green marketing for both consumers and marketers. As with the last review, I fully expect this proceeding to be a robust process that will focus on changing consumer perceptions of environmental marketing claims,” Laura Kim, Covington & Burling LLP, told WWD. She was one of the one of the authors of the Green Guides during her tenure as chief of staff in the Bureau of Consumer Protection the FTC.

Last year, more than 40 industry members advocated for updates in the Green Guides, in part led by groups like Politically in Fashion.

“This information that consumers seek must be truthful, reasonable and useful to the average consumer,” reiterated Politically in Fashion’s founder Hilary Jochmans. She hopes for a “timely” review period.

For the FTC, review processes typically stay open for at least 30 days (or more once published). Additional review periods (10 to 30 or more days) may be necessary upon review of commentary.

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