The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is reviewing its Environmental Marketing Guidelines or "Green Guides." One of the issues it considered earlier this year and conducted review of are carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates. Walmart commented on the FTC's proposed regulations of marketing of carbon offsets and renewable energy credits, which resulted in criticism from some green groups. Some non-governmental organizations are accusing companies of engaging in "green washing" or making statements in pubic documents or advertisements claiming environmentally beneficent programs or actions that do not result in any real environmental benefit. Critics of carbon offsets assert they often do little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
While certain programs have not been effective, carbon offsets can serve to reduce global greenhouse gases (GHGs) by making capital available for GHG reduction projects. Walmart was resisting a specific definition of carbon offsets by the FTC for purposes of regulating marketing claims related to the sale or use of carbon offsets.
What Walmart appeared to be concerned about was that parties who take action to address environmental, energy efficiency, or climate issues, not be put at risk of significant penalties because of any narrowly drawn rules on green products, green advertising, or the use or sale of carbon credits or renewable energy credits.
The British Advertising Standards Authority apparently has taken action against Lexux, Volkswagen, and Citron for environmental advertising with respect to lower emission and alternative-fuel vehicles.
As the so-called "green movement" continues, companies will be producing and selling products, asserting actions they have taken to address environmental harm and climate change. It appears what assertions are made are becoming not only subject to question by environmental groups or other non-governmental organizations, but also the FTC and other governmental agencies in various countries that regulate advertising and product claims. Unfortunately, companies trying to make a difference may be drawn into attacks on the legitimacy of their actions. Thus, care should be taken in developing these product and advertising strategies and making sure any assertions can be backed up with evidence of their environmental benefit and accuracy.