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The World of 'Green Advertising'

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Overall, there are strong signs that the environmental marketplace is working and that today's consumers, as well as current laws, are effectively combining to keep advertisers honest and responsible when touting their "greenness." 

Studies have shown that most customers do not automatically accept green claims, and that nearly half of all consumers take the time to investigate such assertions. For a savvy consumer, the truth about an advertised environmental claim is likely just an Internet search away or can be found on one or more of numerous environmental advertising watchdog sites, like www.greenwashingindex.com.

More than ever, companies realize that misrepresenting a green claim is likely to bring far more criticism than if that claim had never been made. Advertisers and agencies have learned the ramifications of making a mistake on an environmental claim. They operate with the understanding that misstatements, or even carelessness, with such claims will not only invite attacks from outside groups, but, more importantly, may also cause consumers to permanently walk away from that company and its products, and to tune out all future green initiatives.

Federal and state laws are also in place to punish those bold enough to overstate their environmental benefits. Current FTC guidelines require that green claims, like all product claims, be supported with appropriate scientific study. Therefore, under federal law, every green claim must be truthful, accurate and fully substantiated. State laws, such as those in California, as well as local laws, may also impose separate and severe penalties for deceptive environmental claims.

For advertisers, it is just good business to be as honest and accurate as possible when advertising environmental claims. According to a recent study by Burst Media, consumer recall of green advertising is extremely high, with more than 80 percent of consumers recalling green messaging in the past three months.

Today, consumers are listening to, and remembering, the environmental claims that advertisers are making, and a misstep in this area could have severe consequences for the bottom line. Advertisers need to build consumer trust and should guard against not only making false claims but also environmental claims that are overly broad or extremely vague. Ultimately, consumers will not believe such claims, and using them may negatively impact all future marketing, including an advertiser's ability to make other green claims. This is not the area in which to play fast and loose until stricter government regulation arrives. When it comes to "green," an advertiser's sense of responsibility in accuracy may be as important as its sense of responsibility towards sustainability.

Ronald Urbach is co-chair of the advertising, marketing and promotions department of law firm Davis & Gilbert. He can be reached at rurbach@dglaw.com.