Seals of Approval

It seemed like a terrific business opportunity. Consumers and businesses were eager to buy eco-friendly products. So in 1991, Wausau Paper Corp. launched its EcoSoft line of paper towels and tissues, made from 100 percent recycled content.

It wasn't exactly a success story. The problem: Wausau's green marketing was lost amidst a welter of other companies' eco-friendly claims. The number and variety of claims confused potential customers, who weren't sure which products were truly green. So purchasers often stopped responding to green marketing.

Finally, there are certification marks issued by less-scrupulous groups. These marks have nice green-sounding names, but their standards are so low, they're virtually meaningless. These marks are just "greenwash," Ruzich notes.

A business should thus evaluate which certification standards it meets and consider whether it is worthwhile to get those certifications. A minor certification mark, for instance, may help a B-to-B firm whose customers are familiar with the relevant certification marks. A company that sells primarily to consumers may benefit from only a major, well-known certification mark.

The FTC has issued guidelines for environmental marketing indicating which types of claims are acceptable and which types the agency considers deceptive advertising. These guidelines state that a company's environmental claims must be specific and substantiated. Companies should therefore avoid broad claims that their goods and services are "green" or "ecologically friendly."

"Stating that a product or package is 'environmentally friendly' is so broad and ambiguous that it is not subject to any meaningful substantiation, the FTC has said, so if a company makes this claim it could be subject to agency action," DiResta explains.

"This won't be a fad," Strahilevitz says. "This will be around for at least the next few decades and hopefully the next few centuries."


Steven Seidenberg

Bio and more articles

Join the Conversation

Advertisement. Closing in 15 seconds.