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Title 16: Commercial Practices
§260.6 Certifications and seals of approval.
(a) It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service has been endorsed or certified by an independent third party.
(b) A marketer's use of the name, logo, or seal of approval of a third-party certifier or organization may be an endorsement, which should meet the criteria for endorsements provided in the FTC's Endorsement Guides, 16 CFR part 255, including Definitions (§255.0), General Considerations (§255.1), Expert Endorsements (§255.3), Endorsements by Organizations (§255.4), and Disclosure of Material Connections (§255.5).44
44The examples in this section assume that the certifiers' endorsements meet the criteria provided in the Expert Endorsements (§255.3) and Endorsements by Organizations (§255.4) sections of the Endorsement Guides.
(c) Third-party certification does not eliminate a marketer's obligation to ensure that it has substantiation for all claims reasonably communicated by the certification.
(d) A marketer's use of an environmental certification or seal of approval likely conveys that the product offers a general environmental benefit (see §260.4) if the certification or seal does not convey the basis for the certification or seal, either through the name or some other means. Because it is highly unlikely that marketers can substantiate general environmental benefit claims, marketers should not use environmental certifications or seals that do not convey the basis for the certification.
(e) Marketers can qualify general environmental benefit claims conveyed by environmental certifications and seals of approval to prevent deception about the nature of the environmental benefit being asserted. To avoid deception, marketers should use clear and prominent qualifying language that clearly conveys that the certification or seal refers only to specific and limited benefits.
Example 1: An advertisement for paint features a “GreenLogo” seal and the statement “GreenLogo for Environmental Excellence.” This advertisement likely conveys that: (1) the GreenLogo seal is awarded by an independent, third-party certifier with appropriate expertise in evaluating the environmental attributes of paint; and (2) the product has far-reaching environmental benefits. If the paint manufacturer awarded the seal to its own product, and no independent, third-party certifier objectively evaluated the paint using independent standards, the claim would be deceptive. The claim would not be deceptive if the marketer accompanied the seal with clear and prominent language: (1) indicating that the marketer awarded the GreenLogo seal to its own product; and (2) clearly conveying that the award refers only to specific and limited benefits.
Example 2: A manufacturer advertises its product as “certified by the American Institute of Degradable Materials.” Because the advertisement does not mention that the American Institute of Degradable Materials (“AIDM”) is an industry trade association, the certification likely conveys that it was awarded by an independent certifier. To be certified, marketers must meet standards that have been developed and maintained by a voluntary consensus standard body.45 An independent auditor applies these standards objectively. This advertisement likely is not deceptive if the manufacturer complies with §260.8 of the Guides (Degradable Claims) because the certification is based on independently-developed and -maintained standards and an independent auditor applies the standards objectively.
45Voluntary consensus standard bodies are “organizations which plan, develop, establish, or coordinate voluntary consensus standards using agreed-upon procedures. * * * A voluntary consensus standards body is defined by the following attributes: (i) Openness, (ii) balance of interest, (iii) due process, (iv) an appeals process, (v) consensus, which is defined as general agreement, but not necessarily unanimity, and includes a process for attempting to resolve objections by interested parties, as long as all comments have been fairly considered, each objector is advised of the disposition of his or her objection(s) and the reasons why, and the consensus members are given an opportunity to change their votes after reviewing the comments.” Memorandum for Heads of Executive Departments and Agencies on Federal Participation in the Development and Use of Voluntary Consensus Assessment Activities, February 10, 1998, Circular No. A-119 Revised, Office of Management and Budget at http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/circulars_a119.
Example 3: A product features a seal of approval from “The Forest Products Industry Association,” an industry certifier with appropriate expertise in evaluating the environmental attributes of paper products. Because it is clear from the certifier's name that the product has been certified by an industry certifier, the certification likely does not convey that it was awarded by an independent certifier. The use of the seal likely is not deceptive provided that the advertisement does not imply other deceptive claims.
Example 4: A marketer's package features a seal of approval with the text “Certified Non-Toxic.” The seal is awarded by a certifier with appropriate expertise in evaluating ingredient safety and potential toxicity. It applies standards developed by a voluntary consensus standard body. Although non-industry members comprise a majority of the certifier's board, an industry veto could override any proposed changes to the standards. This certification likely conveys that the product is certified by an independent organization. This claim would be deceptive because industry members can veto any proposed changes to the standards.
Example 5: A marketer's industry sales brochure for overhead lighting features a seal with the text “EcoFriendly Building Association” to show that the marketer is a member of that organization. Although the lighting manufacturer is, in fact, a member, this association has not evaluated the environmental attributes of the marketer's product. This advertisement would be deceptive because it likely conveys that the EcoFriendly Building Association evaluated the product through testing or other objective standards. It also is likely to convey that the lighting has far-reaching environmental benefits. The use of the seal would not be deceptive if the manufacturer accompanies it with clear and prominent qualifying language: (1) indicating that the seal refers to the company's membership only and that the association did not evaluate the product's environmental attributes; and (2) limiting the general environmental benefit representations, both express and implied, to the particular product attributes for which the marketer has substantiation. For example, the marketer could state: “Although we are a member of the EcoFriendly Building Association, it has not evaluated this product. Our lighting is made from 100 percent recycled metal and uses energy efficient LED technology.”
Example 6: A product label contains an environmental seal, either in the form of a globe icon or a globe icon with the text “EarthSmart.” EarthSmart is an independent, third-party certifier with appropriate expertise in evaluating chemical emissions of products. While the marketer meets EarthSmart's standards for reduced chemical emissions during product usage, the product has no other specific environmental benefits. Either seal likely conveys that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits, and that EarthSmart certified the product for all of these benefits. If the marketer cannot substantiate these claims, the use of the seal would be deceptive. The seal would not be deceptive if the marketer accompanied it with clear and prominent language clearly conveying that the certification refers only to specific and limited benefits. For example, the marketer could state next to the globe icon: “EarthSmart certifies that this product meets EarthSmart standards for reduced chemical emissions during product usage.” Alternatively, the claim would not be deceptive if the EarthSmart environmental seal itself stated: “EarthSmart Certified for reduced chemical emissions during product usage.”
Example 7: A one-quart bottle of window cleaner features a seal with the text “Environment Approved,” granted by an independent, third-party certifier with appropriate expertise. The certifier granted the seal after evaluating 35 environmental attributes. This seal likely conveys that the product has far-reaching environmental benefits and that Environment Approved certified the product for all of these benefits and therefore is likely deceptive. The seal would likely not be deceptive if the marketer accompanied it with clear and prominent language clearly conveying that the seal refers only to specific and limited benefits. For example, the seal could state: “Virtually all products impact the environment. For details on which attributes we evaluated, go to [a Web site that discusses this product].” The referenced Web page provides a detailed summary of the examined environmental attributes. A reference to a Web site is appropriate because the additional information provided on the Web site is not necessary to prevent the advertisement from being misleading. As always, the marketer also should ensure that the advertisement does not imply other deceptive claims, and that the certifier's criteria are sufficiently rigorous to substantiate all material claims reasonably communicated by the certification.
Example 8: Great Paper Company sells photocopy paper with packaging that has a seal of approval from the No Chlorine Products Association, a non-profit third-party association. Great Paper Company paid the No Chlorine Products Association a reasonable fee for the certification. Consumers would reasonably expect that marketers have to pay for certification. Therefore, there are no material connections between Great Paper Company and the No Chlorine Products Association. The claim would not be deceptive.