Green Marketing Review Is Put on Fast Track at FTC

Washington_post_jpegOriginally posted Nov. 27, 2007
by Steven Mufson, Washington Post

The Federal Trade Commission
said it would accelerate a review of its decade-old "green" marketing
guidelines because of the booming number of businesses that are
persuading customers to purchase certificates or pay premiums to help
pay for projects or practices that purportedly benefit the environment.

The FTC, which was scheduled to review its guidelines in 2009, said
that on Jan. 8, in the first of a series of public meetings, it would
examine carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates that claim to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place to offset emissions
elsewhere.

"We’re responding to a current increase in green advertising claims,"
said FTC spokeswoman Jackie Dizdul. "We’ve been studying the
marketplace, and a lot of companies are making green marketing claims.
The last time our guidelines were updated was in 1998, and obviously a
lot of things have changed since then."

An enormous variety of companies now make such claims. They include
local utilities that charge premiums to subsidize wind power as well as
car-rental companies and online marketers that sell certificates whose
proceeds are said to pay for projects to reduce greenhouse gases. Other
firms say they use premiums to plant trees, burn methane to convert it
to less potent greenhouse gases, boost recycling or use so-called
sustainable materials.

In a $55 million market that is largely unregulated, however, other
companies have taken measures whose benefits are questionable. Some
offsets support projects that would have gone forward anyway. Others
promise results that are difficult to measure.

After holding hearings about carbon offsets this year, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.),
chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and
Global Warming, asked the FTC to review its guidelines. "As the
opportunity to profit in this sector attracts more players, the
potential for marketing claims to misleadingly portray the offset
products in question also grows," he said in a letter to the FTC over
the summer.

Yesterday Markey said that "the FTC is taking a
positive step by responding to Congress’s call for more oversight on
carbon offsets."

"We think it’s important for the sake of consumer confidence to
begin to create some guidelines that people can count on," said David
Moulton, chief counsel of the select committee.

"The market is really exploding and relatively unregulated, so
there’s the potential for scam artists to move in and take advantage of
people," Mouton added. "We don’t want that to happen because we think
that offsets are a valuable activity and we want to make sure that it
has integrity. When people pay for reductions in emissions, they should
get what they pay for."

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