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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is revamping 1998 guidelines regulating green marketing. As the market for green products expands, the number of certifications and claims of “green-ness” have too. How can well-intentioned consumers navigate this complicated world?

Guests:
Urvashi Rangan, director of technical policy for the Consumers Union and project director of Consumer Reports for GreenerChoices.org
Jacquie Ottman, author and consultant to the Fortune 500 and U.S. government on green marketing issues
Jim Kohm, director of the Federal Trade Commission Division of Enforcement
Martin Wolf, product director in research and development for Seventh Generation

  • Thanks for having this Forum! I would like to know the guests perspectives on the ads and underwriting spots run by companies like Chevron and Monsanto that claim that these companies are furthering the cause of sustainability and doing what is best for people at large.

    I personally have a negative physical reaction each time I hear their spots because I think they are so blatantly false and harmful to people and the planet. I think we need to not only regulate  products but the general campaigns such as underwriting. Right now you can say (very close to) whatever you want, and when you have massive amounts of money you can manipulate public opinion. The average person is being duped, and I don’t feel that people are seeing through it (if they were, companies wouldn’t pay so much money to run these campaigns!).

    Taking Chevron as an example of anti-sustainability: they are hugely into fossil fuels, their actions in Nigeria, and only putting chump change into alternatives – although they look good by funding things like the Cleantech open and Public Media.

    We need more stringent regulations and control of special interests so that we have at least a glimmer of a chance at democracy instead of corporate/special interest rule.

    Here are  few links to share:
    http://www.care2.com/greenliving/chevron-greenwashing-again.html
    http://www.treehugger.com/files/2011/01/a-spoof-video-fires-back-at-chevrons-greenwashing.php
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/cif-green/2009/sep/03/monsanto-water-greenwash
    http://www.personal.psu.edu/mef5268/blogs/portfolio/2011/03/greenwashing.html

  • Regarding paper, it’s also important to look at how much post-consumer recycled content is in the product.

  • Did you know that in the U.S. certified organic fruits and vegetables are labeled with a five digit number beginning with #9. Conventional produce has four digit codes, often beginning with #4?

    http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2009/04/how-to-read-produce-sticker-organic.html

  • iphone and android green apps to use during shopping could be good to help people who are interested enough to evaluate their choices while shopping. Perhaps some already exist.

    In fact, I just looked and the Seafood Watch card that was just mentioned is available as an app!
    http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx

    • Will

      they do! check out goodguide.com

      • Thanks, Will!

  • Holly

    I would like to know more specific information as to where my food is grown.  For example, a tomato will have a sticker “Grown in the USA”.  This does NOT help me buy more locally.  I want to know in which state, in the very least, the tomato is grown.

  • maurice pate

    Isn’t Seveth Generation guilty of “greenwashing” by their promotion of paper towels and other throw-away wipes…more product into the landfill!!  There are alternatives such as the washable and reusable Super Amazing Ktichen Cloths sold by Trader Joe’s.

  • Scott

    There is a Bay Area company called EarthBaby which offers a service that delivers COMPOSTABLE diapers to customers and then picks-up them up again once they are soiled and takes them to be professionally composted. 

    • Amy K

      for one meeeeelion dollars

  • Douglas

    The “green economy” is an oxyoron. There is nothing sustainable in a market based system.

  • My wife just told me about this and I missed it.  If you do another show on this, please include our Bay Area company, MBA Polymers.  We are the world leaders at recycling plastics from end of life computers, electronics, appliances and automobiles.  We close the loop by selling our PCR (post consumer recycled) plastics right back to the largest computer, electronics, appliance and auto companies all over the world.  And I am the co-chair of the material selection committee for EPEAT, the leading worldwide standard for green electronics (modeled after LEEDS for buildings).  Dr. Mike Biddle, President and Founder, MBA Polymers, Inc.  Richmond, CA.

  • Will

    I turned on this show about half way through and was
    surprised that the FTC is revisiting these rules but also deeply was very
    frustrated to hear Good Guide (goodguide.com) mentioned once only in the last
    15 minutes or so and characterized as something of a crude first pass at
    gathering consumer product information.

    Goodguide.com has taken a bottom approach to addressing this problem. Good Guide
    is a “for benefit organization,” as certified by B Corp, which seeks
    to enable consumers to make better informed decisions, vote with their dollar
    and encourage greater transparency in the marketplace regarding health,
    environmental and social impacts of corporations and the products they produce.
    Good Guide has mobile apps as well including barcode scanners.

     

    While I’m excited to hear the FTC will be looking at
    guidelines again, I remain somewhat skeptical that the guidelines will be as
    effective as many of would hope. The threat/process of litigation to counteract
    false or misleading claims, which in my mind is the central tool available to
    regulators, is a necessary but slow and unwieldy means of promoting healthier,
    safer and more socially responsible products.

    I for one an convinced that voting with our dollars is likely to do most of the
    heavy lifting in promoting “green”-er products. The FTC surely will
    have a role as well, but if nothing else it should be telling that it has been
    13 years since these guidelines have been revamped. Voting with our dollars
    means a greater informational burden on us as consumers, but organizations like
    Good Guide can greatly help and give us the tools to make your dollar-vote go
    even further by calling out bad actors in the market.

    I encourage all of you (particularly the caller from Maine!) to visit
    goodguide.com yourself, and spread the word to your friends.

    • Will

      sorry about the typos and formatting, I can’t seem to edit, and was a bit upset when I crafted the response

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