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FTC guides grapple with ‘greenwashing’

April 1st, 2009 / By: / Industry News, Sustainability

Products labeled “green,” “eco-friendly,” “organic,” “sustainable” or “renewable” purport to be better for the environment—but are they? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) takes on deceptive environmental claims in new Green Guides, available online at www.ftc.gov/bcp/grnrule/guides980427.htm. The FTC wants green marketing claims, whether specific or implied, to be substantiated or qualified in a way consumers can understand. The Green Guides aren’t enforceable regulations yet; they are a benchmark for product manufacturers striving for environmental veracity.

The FTC focuses attention on textiles, where the provenance of fibers can get murky. A blend of organic cotton and recycled polyester seems green enough, until it reaches the end of its life. The cotton can’t biodegrade because of the polyester content, and the polyester can’t be recycled because of the cotton content. Renewable raw bamboo fiber has antimicrobial and moisture-wicking properties, making it both green and advantageous in the marketplace. Recycled bamboo made into solvent-spun fibers doesn’t retain those advantages, and solvents tend to be toxic to the environment.

Third-party certification of environmental benefits can clear up the confusion. Among those processes used to certify:

  • Oeko-Tex® Standard 100 certifies that textiles from raw materials through end product comply with prohibitions about use of harmful substances, both those regulated under law and those that cause potential adverse health impacts.
  • MBDC’s Cradle to Cradle Design protocol and the Switzerland-based bluesign® standard cover the entire supply chain and all manufacturing processes, ensuring that environmentally sound practices are used throughout.
  • The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) applies to organic textile production, packaging, labeling and logistics, with two certification levels: “organic” textiles with at least 95 percent organic content, and “made with xx percent organic materials” for textiles with 75 to 95 percent certified organic fibers.

Textile manufacturers can sell consumers a green bill of goods, or use the FTC Green Guides to ensure environmental transparency, credibility and sustainability in the marketplace.

Information from a December 18, 2008, article in Textile World, www.textileworld.com, is included in this piece.

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