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Eco-Friendly and Green Marketing Claims

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Many companies make claims and design packages that promote their products as safe for people or the environment. The law requires these “eco-friendly” or “green” claims to be truthful, and the FTC’s Green Guides tell businesses how to comply with the law when they make environmental claims. Here’s what you need to know when you shop about common green claims that appear on products and packages.

How a Product or Package is Made

Made with recycled content

Recycled content is material that was kept out of the trash, either during the manufacturing process or after people used it. If a product says it’s made with recycled content, check whether the claims are about the product, the package, or both. Does the label say how much of the product or package is made with recycled content? If something isn’t made completely from recycled materials, the label should tell you what amount is.

Made with renewable materials

Renewable claims often describe what the materials are, why they’re renewable, and how much of the product was made with renewable material. For example, a manufacturer could say, “Our flooring is made from 100% bamboo, which grows at the same rate as we use it.”

Made with renewable energy

A company can power its manufacturing with renewable energy like wind or solar energy, or with non-renewable fossil fuels like coal or petroleum. A company that uses non-renewable fossil fuels for manufacturing can buy renewable energy certificates (RECs) to “offset” the non-renewable energy it used.

If a manufacturer says a product is “made with renewable energy,” all, or almost all, of the significant manufacturing processes should be powered by renewable energy, or the manufacturer should have RECs to match the energy used in the manufacturing process. If that’s not true, the manufacturer should tell you how much of the process is powered that way.

Carbon offsets

A company that takes actions — like planting trees — to reduce greenhouse gases can get credits for those “carbon offset” activities. Some companies that earn carbon offset credits sell them to other companies that might want to reduce their “carbon footprints.”

How To Dispose of a Product or Package

Recyclable

A company can say a product is recyclable if most people who buy the product can recycle it. But that doesn’t guarantee you can recycle it in your area. Ask your city or county government about local recycling options.

Biodegradable

Biodegradable things, like food and leaves, break down and decompose into elements found in nature when they’re exposed to sunlight, air, moisture, certain bacteria, or other organisms. But most trash ends up in landfills, which are designed to shut out sunlight, air, and moisture. That keeps pollutants out of the air and drinking water, but also slows decomposition. Things that usually decompose quickly when they’re exposed could take decades (or longer) to decompose in a landfill.

If a product is going to a landfill, a company shouldn’t say its product is biodegradable unless it also explains

  • how long it will take to degrade
  • how much it will break down over time

Compostable

Some materials break down into useable compost, which enriches the soil and returns nutrients to the earth. Some people make compost with yard trimmings and food scraps, and many communities collect leaves, grass, and other yard trimmings for composting.

When you see "compostable" on a product or package, it means the manufacturer should be able to prove you can compost the material safely in home compost piles. If you can’t safely compost the material at home, the manufacturer should tell you that.

Less waste

A marketer should do more than say that disposing of its product or package will create “less waste.” It should explain how the product or package does that. For example, the company could say disposing of a product creates 10 percent less waste than disposing of a previous model of the product.

"Free Of” and Other Common Claims

Companies may tell you their products are “free of” a chemical or ingredient that might concern you. When marketers say a product is “free of” an ingredient, they should be able to prove that the product:

  • doesn’t have more than a harmless trace amount of the ingredient, and the ingredient was not intentionally added
  • is free of any other ingredient that causes the same kind of risk

VOC-free

You may see products labeled “low-VOC” or “VOC-free.” VOCs — or volatile organic compounds — are found in products including paint, household cleaners, floor polishes, charcoal lighter fluid, windshield wiper fluid, and some hair styling products. VOCs are released into the air as gases. They may cause smog by contributing to ground-level ozone formation, or have negative effects on your health.

Non-toxic

Marketers who say a product is “non-toxic” should have proof that the product is safe for both humans and the environment. If it’s safe for humans or the environment, but not both, the product should say which one the non-toxic claim applies to.

Ozone-friendly

The ozone layer in earth’s upper atmosphere prevents harmful radiation from the sun from reaching the earth. Ozone at ground level forms smog and can cause serious breathing problems for some people. If a company claims its products are "ozone-friendly" or "ozone safe," it should have proof that the products do not harm the upper ozone layer and won’t cause smog at ground level.

Seals and certifications

You might see seals, certificates, names, or logos from third parties on some products. Seals and certificates can relate to the quality or environmental benefits of a product, or whether the product meets a trade or industry groups’ standards. Seals or certifications can be useful, but only if they’re backed up by solid standards. They should give you enough information to understand what they mean and which environmental benefits were evaluated. A package with an environmental certificate or seal of approval on it should tell you if the company has any connection to the organization behind the seal, if a connection would influence your opinion about the seal.

Report Problems

If you see a misleading green marketing claim, please tell the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov.