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House testimony: “It’s Too Easy Being Green”

June 5, 2009
Testimony to House Sub-committee on Commerce Trade, and Consumer Protection hearing — “It’s Too Easy Being Green: Defining Fair Green Marketing Practices”
Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, appreciates the invitation by the House Sub-committee on Commerce Trade, and Consumer Protection hearing, “It’s Too Easy Being Green: Defining Fair Green Marketing Practices” to share our perspective.
I am Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D. and Director of Technical Policy for Consumers Union, non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports. I am an Environmental Health Scientist and provide technical support to our research and testing and help develop advice, policy recommendations and advocacy initiatives on a wide array of environmental and public health issues. I also direct Consumer Reports’ Greenerchoices.org, a free, public-service website, which disseminates wide ranging reports on the green marketplace, including an eco-labels database, that gives consumers our evaluation and ratings of more than 150 environmental claims including those found on food, personal care products and cleaners. We also advocate for stronger labeling standards across a wide range of products.
There are broad and specific challenges in defining fair green marketing practices and we believe that the government has a very important role in guiding and protecting this marketplace. Consumers are faced with a dizzying array of labels—some which are very specific and discreet, like “no phthalates” to those that are vague and not well defined, like “natural” and “green.” This marketplace is incredibly confusing for consumers and filled with a lot of noise that can be misleading and at times, deceptive. Often, consumers are presented with claims that sound better than they are (“carbon negative”), have minimal standards (“natural”) or no standards (“non-toxic”) while there are also meaningful, certified labels to choose. Of the certified label programs, there are several viable business models including public, private, non-profit, for-profit—that may or may not be of interest to a particular consumer. Some claims have comprehensive standards behind them with robust verification (certified labels) while many do not (general claims). But it is difficult to impossible for consumers to make accurate assessments of green claims in the marketplace on their own. The Federal Trade Commission’s role in reducing deceptive marketing practices is necessary and should be broadened. At the same time, the baseline for good marketing practices and minimum standards for common claims should and could be established.
Consumers are currently faced with a huge learning task that better guidance and regulation could reduce.
Requirements for transparency in standards and product information, such as ingredient lists, should be standard for all products being sold with green claims. Government regulation and guidance would be helpful in maintaining universal requirements for credible green marketing practices.
For the full testimony, click here (PDF format)