Photo by Shutterstock, Leon Max, Macy’s, and Sears have agreed to pay a combined $1.26 million in fines after the Federal Trade Commission charged them with marketing products as bamboo when they were actually derived from rayon. While so-called bamboo textiles are often promoted as environmentally friendly, the chemical-intensive process for manufacturing rayon—even when it’s made from bamboo—is far from “green,” according to the federal agency, which sent a business alert in 2009 advising manufacturers and sellers not to label or advertise a textile as bamboo if it wasn’t made directly of bamboo fiber (“rayon” or “rayon made from bamboo” are the preferred terms.)

PREVIOUSLY ON ECOUTERRE: How Eco-Friendly is Bamboo Fabric, Really?

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According to the FTC’s complaints, each of the four companies violated the Textile Products Identification Act and the FTC’s Textile Rules by claiming, without qualification, that the textile fiber in certain retail and private-label products was bamboo., for instance, described a “Summer Infant Crib Sheet” as “100 percent organic bamboo.” The retailer also sold a product called the “Scene Weavers Pickles Bamboo Knit Garden Stripe Baby Blanket,” which it labeled “100 percent knit bamboo.”

According to the FTC, the companies claimed, without qualification, that the textile fiber in certain products was bamboo.

The FTC alleged that Leon Max, which does business as Max Studio, sold a “Silk & Bamboo Broadcloth Shirred Shell,” which it claimed was made of a “delicate and eco-friendly bamboo and silk fabric” comprised of “65 percent bamboo, 35 percent silk.” In addition, it sold a “Football Tee” that was labeled “50 percent bamboo, 50 percent cotton.”

Macy’s allegedly advertised and sold retail products designated as “bamboo” and “bamboo fiber” on their textile labels. One product description for the “2(x)ist Contour Campus Pouch Brief,” for example, stated that it offered, “plenty of cool comfort and support…crafted in a cotton-bamboo blend for unbeatable performance.”

Sears allegedly claimed that some sheet sets sold in its stores and on its websites were made of “Pure Fiber 100 Percent Bamboo.” The retailer also sold a “Ty Pennington Style Bamboo Sheet Set,” which it characterized as “55 percent bamboo/45 percent cotton.”

“When attempting to appeal to environmentally conscious consumers, companies need to ensure they don’t cross the line into misleading labeling and advertising,” Charles Harwood, acting director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, says in a statement. “If a textile is made of rayon, sellers need to say that, even if bamboo was used somewhere along the line in the production process.”

Aside from the civil penalties each company has agreed to pay, the proposed orders settling the FTC’s charges prohibit the companies from failing to properly identify the fiber content of the “bamboo” textiles they sell, including products sold or marketed as antimicrobial, antibacterial, or antifungal.

+ Press Release

+ Federal Trade Commission