There is a good chance you have never even heard of greenwashing. Yet, your company may be at risk by engaging in the practice of greenwashing. Wikipedia defines greenwashing as the practice of companies disingenuously spinning their products and policies as environmentally friendly. In today's world, "green" is good marketing, but saying your product is green when it isn't can have significant consequences.
Before touting your product's environmentally friendly qualities, review your claims carefully to ensure that you can back them up with data. Keep in mind that if you overstep your bounds, there are several potential consequences, including:
- Consumer watch dogs host websites that expose any inconsistencies in marketing claims
- The Federal Trade Commission will prosecute false or misleading advertising claims
- The United States Patent & Trademark Office will deny a trademark application for being "misdescriptive"
- The National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau has a "challenge" process
Of course, having a trademark application denied pales in comparison to being the subject of a Federal Trade Commission action. The FTC has issued Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims which are known as the FTC green guides. These guides can be found on the FTC website, www.ftc.gov or http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/energy/bus42.shtm. In February of this year, the FTC sent letters to 78 companies, including large retailers such as Kmart, Walmart and Target, warning that they may be breaking the law by selling clothing and other textile products that are labeled and advertised as "bamboo," but actually are made of manufactured rayon fiber. Last year, the FTC actually sued several companies for the same false claims.
Greenwashing can also be harmful to your reputation. EnviroMedia Social Networking hosts a website at greenwashingindex.com that includes a "worst offenders" list. These websites are typically optimized on search engines, meaning that a company's dubious honor of being listed as a greenwashing worst offender can show up before the company's own website in Internet search results. The good news is that this website also offers a "most authentic" list that can help spotlight your company's positive efforts to help the environment.
This article is not intended to provide legal advice. Always consult an attorney for legal advice for your particular situation.
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ABOUT: Maria Crimi Speth is an IP attorney and is a shareholder in the Phoenix business law firm of Jaburg Wilk. She heads the intellectual property law department and assists client with trademark, IP law and Internet issues. Maria is a frequent speaker on intellectual property law and is the author of the book, Protect Your Writings, a Legal Guide for Authors.
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