The Federal Trade Commission recently released(pdf) their highly anticipated revisions to the Green Guides, the set of rules regulating how environmental benefits are marketed to consumers. Although it’s great that the Commission revised, updated, and strengthened their marketing recommendations for a host of products, their consumer perception study and resulting rules recommendations for carbon offsets was something of a let down.
Only 41% of the study’s respondents were successfully able to identify a carbon offset as “a way of reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases,” and, sadly, 35% were not sure what an offset was at all. Even worse, only 18% were able to define a carbon offset in their own words, versus 58% who did not know or didn’t respond to the question.
This is really too bad. TerraPass strives to educate our members about the offsets that we sell because we truly believe that it is important to avoid funding reductions that:
– aren’t measurable,
– may never take place (or take place too far off in the distant future),
– would have happened anyway, and
– don’t employ rigorous, independent standards and verification.
Those were among our recommendations to the FTC when we talked to them back in 2008, and it continues to be our message now. Even though the FTC couldn’t identify any pattern of confusion among respondents to their survey, the fact remains that offsets can be complex, and it is often difficult for people to wade through the vast amount of information out there to make an informed decision.
There are several glimmers of hope to be seen. For one thing, the Committee seems genuinely interested in understanding whether claims of carbon neutrality should be reviewed, and have asked for public comment on this topic. And on the rest of the revisions, the Committee seems very concerned with making sure that consumers are, at the very least, well informed.
Simply put, the new guidelines on offsets fall one step short of where they ought to be and do not require the same kind of rigor that is being asked of marketers for many other environmental claims. And for those of us who care about quality and transparency, it’s a bit disappointing.