FBA Blog

Are We Speaking the Same Language?

Feb 14, 2023

When it comes to sustainability, it seems everyone may not have the same understanding of important terms that impact the corrugated industry.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently extended the public comment period for revisions to its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims, or more commonly known, “Green Guides".

First issued in 1992 and most recently revised in 2012, the Green Guides, outline general principles applicable to all environmental marketing claims and provide specific guidance regarding many common environmental benefit claims.  For each claim covered, the Green Guides explain how reasonable consumers likely interpret it, describe the basic elements necessary to substantiate it, and present illustrative examples on how to qualify claims to avoid deception.

The FTC decennial review comes at a time when consumers have a better understanding of terms and at the same time are becoming more skeptical about environmental claims.

In 2022, Shelton Group, a sustainability marketing group, asked 2,000 consumers about their understanding of environmental buzzwords.  Many of the words included in their study are defined in the Green Guides, including recyclable, recycled content, renewable and compostable. According to the Shelton Group’s research, consumers understanding of these terms has increased since the group first studied them in 2015, but their understanding is due in large part to growing skepticism about the effectiveness of the use of these words.  The report says consumers are more concerned today than they were seven years ago about whether claims like renewable, recycled content and compostable are good for the environment and they are looking for more information and more proof points when companies make these claims.

In addition, age played a big role in skepticism. Older consumers (55+) have more faith in the efficacy of these terms. On the other hand, younger consumers, including Millennials and Gen Z, are more likely to view these words as meaningless.

The timing of the research and the FTC’s review means the corrugated industry needs to be thoughtful about how we use these words to ensure box users and consumers alike understand our sustainability story, including proof points that demonstrate renewability in our raw materials, recyclability of corrugated products, and the reuse of box fibers as recycled content in a circular manufacturing process.

The American Forest & Paper Association plans to submit comments on behalf of the paper and packaging industry to the FTC’s request. Individual companies can also submit comments. The deadline to submit comments is April 24, 2023.