Corporate marketers are enviro-crazy, throwing buzzwords like "green" and "energy efficiency" into nearly every press release and label.
For example, the Emmys touted a "green" awards ceremony, with its solar-powered canopy hovering over the red carpet.
And Greentech Media reporters were lured to San Francisco to check out Lennox's "energy-efficient" fireplace. The key technology play here was "gas," because natural gas is more energy-efficient than, say, wood. But it wasn't more energy-efficient than, for instance, other gas fireplaces out there.
With green marketing spreading like wildfire, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission is stepping up measures to help dampen the hyperbole and ensure folks use the verdant verbiage appropriately.
This week, the federal agency said it would speed up the review process of its environmental-marketing guidelines, which haven't been touched since 1998.
"There seems to be an increase in green marketing claims," said FTC spokesperson Jackie Dizdul, as she explained why the agency moved up its scheduled review originally slated for 2009.
The first plan is to address the marketing of carbon offsets, which are tradeable emission reductions used to counterbalance emissions, and renewable-energy certificates, which are credits derived from making renewable energy that can be sold or traded.
Carbon offsets and renewable-energy credits have garnered unwanted attention from consumers who could not verify what their purchases actually bought them, like how much an offset purchase contributed to a specific project.
The FTC on Jan. 8 will start a series of public meetings aimed at re-evaluating green marketing.
The hope is that the agency's "green" marketing guidelines will keep companies fair and honest about the products they sell.
But even with guidelines, companies will no doubt push the envelope.
A study published last week found 99 percent of products surveyed were guilty of so-called "greenwashing" (see press release).
TerraChoice Environmental Marketing examined 1,753 claims made by consumer products, such as toothpaste, shampoo and printers, and found that nearly all were guilty of committing at least one of what the firm calls the "six sins of greenwashing."
The biggest offenders committed what the marketing firm calls the "Sin of the Hidden Trade-Off," where a company suggests a product is "green" based on a single environmental attribute. The study offered the example of "energy-efficient" electronics that contain hazardous materials.
About a quarter of the transgressions fell under the "Sin of No Proof," where an environmental claim could not be substantiated by easily accessible supporting information, or by a reliable third-party certification.
The remaining evil-doers committed various offenses ranging from the "Sin of Vagueness" -- where claims are so loosely defined that consumers can't grasp any real meaning -- to the "Sin of Irrelevance," where an environmental claim may be truthful but is basically unimportant (think "CFC-free" on an aerosol bottle, even though the United States banned chlorofluorocarbon in those bottles more than 20 years ago).
"Consumers are inundated with products that make green claims," said TerraChoice President Scott McDougall in a written statement. "Some are accurate, certified and verifiable, while others are just plain fibbing to sell products."
And it will be up to the FTC to draw the line where greenwashing has gone too far.