It’s natural! It’s compostable! It’s biodegradable! It’s non-toxic! We’re living in a world of green claims that can sometimes seem unrealistic and unprovable. Well yesterday, the US Federal Trade Commission proposed a host of revisions to the current Green Guide to make those claims a little clearer and to make it harder for companies to claim false green credentials. It covers everything from recycling, to composting, to the chemical makeup of a product and just might help the general public out in deciding what products are truly environmentally friendly.

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The new rules aren’t going to make it a perfect world — one where all green labels are as strict as fuel claims or organic seals — but they are a step up from where we are now. The current system allows companies to put claims on their products that are completely unsubstantiated or misleading. For instance, “free of non-toxic dyes” can mean that the product is free of some non-toxic dyes but not others. A claim of “no parabens” can mean that it doesn’t have parabens — preservatives used in cosmetics that are proven endocrine disruptors that are linked to breast cancer — but that it does contain other chemicals that are just as damaging. The Green Guide was created in 1992 and was updated last in 1998 and seems to lend itself to a whole slew of greenwashing claims.

The proposed updates to the Green Guides will help businesses better align their product claims with consumer expectations,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz. For instance a claim of “biodegradable” will have to mean that the product will biodegrade in less than a year and can’t be placed on a product destined for the landfill because it most likely won’t biodegrade there anyway. A claim of compostable must mean that the product is proven to completely compost in the time that it takes other refuse to compost in a regular compost bin. In general the rules are meant to make stricter guidelines on how producers will qualify their claims to make sure they are real, take into account how consumers shop and how they interpret claims all in order to help curb consumer deception. The FTC will be taking consumer feedback about the new proposed guidelines until December 10th of this year, after which the finalized rules will go into effect.

+ Submit your own ideas for the guide here

+ The Federal Trade Comission

+ Read the proposed changes

+ Read the FTC’s statement