Posts Tagged ‘green marketing’

Interesting article on LEED certification: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2012/10/24/green-building-leed-certification/1650517/

It’s not so easy to come up with a green standard – lots of competing goals and caveats to encourage enough buy-in to get organizations to use the standard.  Unfortunately, many government organizations make assumptions about LEED without looking at the shortcomings because it’s simple to glom onto.  Like every other system out there, lots of people will game it.  How do you set up enough post-certification validation checks without dragging the whole system down?  LEED has caused movement in the right direction overall, but maybe not much.

It’s not simple being “green.”  Or telling if something is really “green.”  FTC tries to offer guidance, but there’s still plenty of room for mischief.


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Finally, FTC has issued it’s updated guidelines for what appropriate environmental marketing claims can be made for products.  A very nice summary is here.  Guidance.

In concert with comments I submitted against general environmental claims, FTC says:

Marketers should not make broad, unqualified general environmental benefit claims like ‘green’ or ‘eco-friendly.’ Broad claims are difficult to substantiate, if not impossible.

Marketers should qualify general claims with specific environmental benefits.
Qualifications for any claim should be clear, prominent, and specific.
– When a marketer qualifies a general claim with a specific benefit, consumers understand the benefit to be significant. As a result, marketers shouldn’t highlight small or unimportant benefits. 
 – If a qualified general claim conveys that a product has an overall environmental benefit because of a specific attribute, marketers should analyze the trade-offs resulting from the attribute to prove the claim.

And Hooray! they didn’t try to deal with “sustainable.”

I like FTC’s approach to logos and seals, too:

Marketers shouldn’t use environmental certifications or seals that don’t clearly convey the basis for the certification, because the seals or certifications are likely to convey general environmental benefits.

Not so happy they left the ability to say “free of” – which I think is often an unsubstantiated allegation of harm caused by the not-there chemical, rather than a simple statement that it doesn’t contain a chemical.

The 300 page background document actually referenced my comments 38 times!  Nice to be heard.

Still lots of room for interpretation, but an improvement.  Now if they’ll only enforce the Guides.

Contact EHS Strategies, Inc. for help keeping your claims compliant.

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I spoke at the Minnesota Green Chemistry Forum’s “Adding Value Through Green Chemistry” conference January 7, 2011, on the topic of environmental marketing claims opportunities and challenges for companies.

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FTC released its latest proposed version of Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing claims October 6, 2010: http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/10/greenguide.shtm

Comments are Due December 10, 2010.

At 295 pages, it will take me a bit to digest. On a quick scan it does look like they seriously considered my comments (12 cites!).

An FTC summary of the proposal can be found here.  Clarifications of the old guides on: green/eco-friendly claims, seals of approval, clarifying recyclable availability considerations, free of/non-toxic claims, and what timely degradation and composting means.  New items include “renewable” materials and energy and carbon offsets.  They did not include guidance on using “sustainable,” “natural” or “organic.”

Stay tuned for more commentary and do submit your own comments to FTC.  This rule will affect everyone who makes and buys products.

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EPA published a request for comments on its role in advancing sustainable products September 16, 2010.  I submitted the following comments:

Comments on EPA’s Role in Advancing Sustainable Products 75 FR 56528

Georjean L. Adams, EHS Strategies, Inc.

September 30, 2010

I am commenting on the September 16, 2010, notice soliciting comments on the role EPA should play in advancing sustainable products.  I am a professional who has for many years dealt with product environmental marketing claims as a corporate product stewardship manager, as a consultant, and currently as a member of a standard development committee on greener chemical products.

In general, I think the best contribution by EPA in products is to ensure a solid scientific foundation for  development of products that can be made, used and disposed of with the least adverse impact on health and the environment throughout its life cycle.  EPA can also assist with educating government, industry, academia and the general public about sustainability.

But first I must comment on the concept of “a sustainable product.”  I’m not sure there is such a thing.  A product must be considered within the context of the social, economic and physical systems in which it is made, used and disposed of.  Relevant factors include things such as:

– number of different operations

– volumes handled

– the sophistication of the companies, employees and users involved at each life cycle stage of a specific product

– distance from the customers at each transfer point in the supply chain

– ecosystem/resource profiles at each life cycle stage

– raw materials and energy sources used relative to the product

– number and kind of process steps and their associated EHS risk management practices

– local infrastructure at every life cycle stage

– local social and economic systems at every life cycle stage

All of which are undergoing constant change within their business, environmental and social systems over time.

Therefore, except for the very rare product with a single source and limited market niche and geographic use, it doesn’t have much meaning to say a given widget is “sustainable.”

At best we can list some of the attributes that impact sustainability (such as those listed above) and try to collate a series of life cycle snapshots that are more or less relevant to a particular product. Further,  I believe that sustainability is a relative term in comparing alternatives, as opposed to a finite quantitative state of being.  This philosophy is behind the recent GCI-NSF “Greener Chemicals and Processes Information Standard” proposal which attempts to list key metrics for only the chemical manufacturing life cycle stage in the hopes that a customer could compare relative suppliers of a single  chemical product.  See http://standards.nsf.org/apps/group_public/document.php?document_id=9409

It remains to be seen whether this will prove to be practical and meaningful.  I remain concerned that  there are far too many criteria required in the standard. (I was a member of the Joint Committee that developed the proposed standard.)

I offer the following comments on the specific questions raised in the Federal Register notice:

1. What do you see as the major policy and research challenges, opportunities, and trends impacting the development, manufacture, designation, and use of sustainable products?

I’d first recast the question as “…impacting… more sustainable products and processes?”

Policy Challenges:

– the inability to force generation and sharing of perfect information both for practical and proprietary reasons.  How do you determine what information is “enough”?

– value differences among stakeholders.  How do you weight EHS/social/economic costs and benefits?

– lack of understanding and appreciation for systems/life cycle thinking over the long term (by politicians and business and the general public)

– difficulty in communicating uncertainty and risk

– the need to apportion contributions and restrictions for cumulative impacts fairly

– getting consensus on whether “sustainability” is a function of risk or simply inherent hazard of materials. (My bias is that risk has to be a consideration, as there is no product with zero risk.)

Research Challenges:

– understanding the key variables that affect local and global system impacts (preceded by understanding the systems themselves)

– calculating aggregate and cumulative impacts

– how to use representative information for products made and used in different geographic locations (when to use what default assumptions)

– all the challenges in conducting risk characterizations and assessment

2. What do you see as EPA’s overall role in addressing these challenges and opportunities?

– educating the public on ecosystem/resource life cycle impacts

– improving communication of risks

– develop tools to understand and characterize local impacts at each stage of a life cycle.

– such tools could then be used by participants in a product’s supply chain and would help the product manufacturer design better processes, sourcing, products and risk management processes.

– develop tools for the agency to conduct aggregate and cumulative impacts assessments.

– EPA can act as a convener for stakeholders to apportion contributions to cumulative impacts.

I can’t see that a company can deal with cumulative impacts outside of its own products. Cumulative impacts by definition will involved multiple industries, agencies and interest groups across multiple locations.  As EPA has experienced with TMDLs for large water bodies, this is incredibly difficult scientifically and politically where the interests of a wide array of local entities need significant input on who can contribute how much to maintain safe levels.  Compound that difficulty by broadening the scale to nationally or globally acceptable contributions across all media, all chemical uses, large numbers of jurisdictions and the political and technical challenges.  Managing cumulative and aggregate impacts can only be resolved by extensive dialogue among stakeholders.  Perhaps EPA can bring government, business and NGO stakeholders together as a facilitator.

3. In particular, how do you see EPA’s role in:

Assembling information and databases.

– A logical EPA function. The need is also global, so working with other international organizations – UN, OECD, EU – would help to avoid duplication.  The data has to be maintained and subject to rigorous data quality management and well-qualified as to local applicability so that it will be used appropriately in decision-making.

Identifying sustainability “hotspots” and setting product sustainability priorities.

– Insofar as EPA develops a better view of cumulative impacts, it is appropriate to call out “hotspots” or products and processes that have significant inefficiencies and environmental and health adverse impacts.  However, I don’t think EPA is necessarily equipped to deal with the social and economic impacts (pro and con) that also are a necessary part of meeting sustainability goals. EPA has a responsibility to describe potential risks accurately and to focus its role on scientific characterization, as opposed to social acceptability.  EPA can also identify the tools it has available to manage risks through regulatory authorities.

Evaluating the multiple impacts of products across their entire life cycle.

– It is not feasible for EPA to evaluate total life cycle impacts on all products.  Preferably, EPA will develop useful models for individual companies and agencies to use on priority products.   EPA risk management proposals should address those areas where exposure is of concern at points within the life cycle (with total ban on production as a last resort).

Defining criteria for more sustainable products.

– Yes, as commented in #2 above.  The criteria need to be both relevant and reduced in number to as manageable a set of parameters as possible.

Generating eco-labels and/or standards.

– It is not clear that EPA should develop capabilities to evaluate any and all product categories that exist and will exist for the multitude of criteria that exist around the “sustainability” arena. EPA is already hard-pressed to deal with individual pollutant standards without trying to keep up with the ever-changing US industrial, commercial and consumer marketplaces. Even the Energy Star program has shown strains on EPA and DOE keeping up with improving technology and validating claims.

–  EPA should narrowly define product areas only where there is a critical need for nationwide consistent standards that address key environmental concerns and work with other federal agencies to set standards.  EPA should carefully analyze the issues it has in dealing with automobile mileage standards and Energy Star to determine whether those programs are working as intended and what characteristics the product categories and markets have that make them amenable or not to a government operated national standards effort as opposed to 3rd party standards and certification. Factors such as standardized testing reliability and capability, defined products categories that are fungible, consumer understanding, value of the metric within the context of sustainability goals, market size and variability, etc.

– DfE has been successful in bringing highly motivated stakeholders together to identify and give recognition for safer product designs. I also support improving DfE’s credibility through auditing/certification of claims.  The way EPA has acted as a convener to achieve consensus has been valuable and should continue at some level for product categories where industry wants to collaborate.  However, I do not believe it appropriate for EPA to evolve a more general “green” labeling program.  Non-government activity exists and is proliferating.  Let it. The staff to resource such an ongoing effort would pull away from  core areas where only EPA can perform – regulations and research.

Establishing the scientific foundation for these eco-labels and/or standards.

– Yes, as it would contribute to internal and external programs and is part of understanding life cycle impacts of concern.

– EPA may well be suited to validating 3rd party standards as appropriately using EHS criteria and metrics.

Verifying that products meet standards

– As stated above, I do not see it feasible for EPA to staff up to be able to review all products making claims.  EPA resources would be better spent accrediting the standard makers.

Stimulating the market.

– Allowing labeling for DfE compliant products is good.

– Providing consultation to federal government procurement may be appropriate, but I do not see it a priority for EPA to maintain resources to be able to catalog all acceptable “sustainable” products.  Rather, resources can be devoted to validating the merits of various 3rd party standard metrics.

Developing end-of-life management systems (reuse, recycling, etc.).

– EPA should work on modifying regulations that support such systems as opposed to creating and dealing with the logistics of managing them.

– EPA can develop necessary components and considerations (e.g., life cycle impacts) that should be used by developers of end-of-life management systems.

Measuring results, evaluating programs.

– EPA can review and comment on 3rd party standards programs for whether they are scientific validity and result in appropriate characterization of life cycle environmental and health impacts of products.

– EPA’s primary mission “to protect human health and to safeguard the natural environment — air, water and land — upon which life depends” requires the ability to evaluate the state of the US environment and to identify trends that may show progress or need for further attention.  Highlighting both success and challenges will encourage continued product redesign and invention to assist progress toward sustainability.

Missing from the above list is the EPA role of developing and continually improving education around sustainability concepts and tools.  The audience should be broad-based:  the public, government at all levels, academia and business.  EPA should work with the broad array of stakeholders who are engaged in education efforts around sustainability.

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Environmental claims are everywhere. Don’t you feel guilty when you don’t buy something “Green” ? But what is green? The FTC is holding a series of workshops to review and update their Green Guidelines.

Here are the comments I’ve submitted:
Feb. 11, 2008:
The basic principles of the Green Guides are important to maintain and extend to the current plethora of “green” claims appearing in the US market.

• Claims need to be technically accurate and supported by scientific data.

• Claims should not be misleading to the consumer insofar as they imply environmental benefit that is not and/or cannot be substantiated.

Several current marketing claims are violating these basic standards and need enforcement and publicity from the FTC to ensure consumers receive good information on which to base purchases.

“Chemical Free”
1. This is a straightforward task for specified chemical content (e.g., “lead-free”). If the level of the chemical is typically detectable at greater than background or regulated levels, the product is not “free” of that chemical.
2. The generic claim “chemical free” is gaining popularity as the public is encouraged to believe that “chemicals” are bad for you. Such a generic claim is bogus insofar as all things – all matter – are made of chemicals, each with a dose that will cause adverse health or environmental effects. This is true whether the chemical was found and extracted from nature or man-made. This is a misleading claim and technically inaccurate and should be discouraged for use with regard to any product or as part of any marketing (or anti-marketing) activity.

1. The definition of sustainable is varied, made up of value-laden general terms and controversial. It is currently not capable of substantiation as a stand-alone claim.
2. It is not technically possible at this time to define sustainable as a general term of art.
3. Even with regard to specific attributes (e.g., a chemical component is derived from a renewable plant resource), it cannot be clearly argued that the attribute is “sustainable” since there is no generally accepted definition for the term.
4. At best, companies can talk about their programs regarding sustainable development in a full text document (e.g., on their website or in their “Corporate Sustainability Report”).
5. FTC should discourage use of “sustainable” as a claim for a product until a clear consensus on metrics defining the term are developed.

“Green” “Eco –“ “Natural” Terms, Logos and Artwork
1. These terms and visual claims are more likely than not equivalent to FTC’s prohibited term “environmentally friendly” as unqualified claims for a product.
2. Such claims should never appear without clear statements of the specific attributes being claimed. While reference to third party standards and websites are useful, they are likely not to be investigated by the consumer at the point of purchase. Insofar as possible, sufficient point of sale information should be made available to the consumer as to what the environmentally preferred attributes are.

“Environmentally Preferable”
1. Such claims need to be carefully referenced as to which attribute(s) make the product preferred. Those claims must be technically supported. Reference to defined programs should be clear to the consumer.
2. There needs to be a significant improvement or reduction in impact relative to a historical or existing product for the attributes, e.g., >10%.
3. Unqualified claims should not be allowed.

April 16, 2008 on Green Packaging:
The basic principles of the Green Guides are important to maintain and extend to the current plethora of “green” claims appearing in the US market.

• Claims need to be technically accurate and supported by scientific data.

• Claims should not be misleading to the consumer insofar as they imply environmental benefit that is not and/or cannot be substantiated.

Several current marketing claims are violating these basic standards and need enforcement and publicity from the FTC to ensure consumers receive good information on which to base purchases. In addition to comments filed on project P954501, the following comments are provided for your consideration on packaging claims:
1. “Sustainable” should not appear as a product or package descriptor on a package. The term is ill-defined and made up of several factors, often specific to a particular product or manufacturer. Similarly, “cradle to cradle” and “life cycle” are not terms amenable to understanding on a package label. At most, packages may make an informational reference to obtaining further information about company programs regarding sustainability via a website, phone number or address.
2. “Biodegradable, photodegradable, degradable” have no place on solid products or packaging. At most it can be accurate in describing liquids that will be sewered. Landfilled sold wastes are minimally degradable; compostable would be the preferred claim (see #3). Implying that it is preferable to litter so that the product or package will degrade is unacceptable.
3. “Compostable” should be reserved for those products that can be composted in a typical home composting process. If a community or business offers composting options, additional information and descriptions of what can be accepted by the composting operation will be provided to consumers. B2B communications can handle identification without relying on product packaging, especially if that package can be sold at retail.
4. “Eco-“ and “Green” names and graphics are equivalent to using the term “environmentally friendly” which the FTC has correctly identified as misleading and impossible to technically support. Given the all-pervasiveness of this kind of terminology however, it may be impossible to eliminate at this stage. A practical alternative may be to require labeling that provides a website, phone number or address to obtain information that explains the environmental attributes that are being used in support of such a claim. FTC should solicit challenges (often from competitors) and initiate its own reviews of the supporting information to see if there is a substantive basis for the use of such names and graphics. There should be material improvements (e.g., >10%) in more than one environmental attribute over previous generations or competitive products. Attributes can include: reduced raw material use, reduced energy use in manufacture or use, recyclability, renewable resource use, reduced toxicity, etc.
5. “Source reduction” is not likely to have meaning to the general consumer as a stand-alone claim. See comment #1 and 4.
6. “Bio-based” is not well-defined. Petroleum is bio-based, albeit made from long deceased biological organisms. In current usage, the term is intended to refer to use of renewable agricultural and forestry products as feedstocks vs petroleum. Deriving feedstocks from coconut tree plantations planted in former tropical forests may or may not be environmentally preferable. Bio-fuels based on corn are now under serious scrutiny for net impacts on the environment. The FTC should not support faddism. It should support sincere efforts by companies to move toward the idea of sustainability and reduced impact on the environment – efforts that seldom can be described in a starburst on a package. Again, see comments #1 and 4.
7. “Recycled content” differences between pre- and post-consumer are probably lost on the general consumer. The base claim is that waste was diverted (temporarily) from disposal to make the product. Insofar as companies can document that fact, it probably doesn’t matter to the consumer. However, as long as there are generally accepted standards by which companies are judged (federal and state) they may need to be continued.
8. “Ozone friendly” “Ozone safe” – given the universal ban on ozone depleting substances there really is no reason to continue use of this claim. However, all products should cease using it by some date, otherwise the implication is that an unlabeled product does harm the ozone layer.
9. Third party certification: certifiers should file copies of their criteria for certification with the FTC for potential review for substantiation and consistent with ISO 14021 standards. Packages using such logos should provide a reference source (website, phone number, address) for further information about the certification program.

Concluding in both comments:

FTC should bring enforcement action against egregious violators and should educate members of the public on the merits of marketing claims and how they can obtain valid information to support their purchasing decisions.

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