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Greener than thou? Be sure before you make any claims

[Note, this is only an excerpt.  The full article is available in print only]

Every business wants to be green. And many businesses want to highlight their efforts to customers or clients.

But before you dash off to make claims about the sustainability or eco-friendliness of your business, take the time to ensure you can back them up. Green claims these days are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and you could be fined if you don’t. But perhaps even worse, your business could be accused of greenwashing – misleading consumers about environmental or sustainability practices to boost profits.

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If the danger to your business’s reputation weren’t enough, green claims are also regulated by the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC publishes so-called “Green Guides” for businesses to use when making environmental claims. The agency began the process of revising those guides in 2010, and they could be much stricter in the future.

For example, if the new guidelines are approved, companies that say their products are “made with renewable materials” will have to state what the material is, how it sources the material and why the material is renewable. And “biodegradable” claims will have to consider the product or package’s ability to degrade in the environment where it’s usually thrown away, and the rate and extent of degradation.

“Consider basic common sense and truth in advertising. Make sure what you say is true, and that you can back it up without stretching the limit,” said Bret Stone, a Santa Barbara-based partner with Paladin Law Group. “If you feel like you’re stretching the limit, change your product or behavior so that it’s truthful.”

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