FTC LogoDon’t know if it’s because I’m paying more attention lately or because all this greenness is coming to a head. Or maybe its the holiday season and our cultural reflexivity toward buying stuff. But there seem to be more reports about green business practices, green marketing and other sustainable business efforts every day. And it’s not just me who’s noticed it; according to several reports around the Web just this week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has accelerated its plans to review its decade-old green marketing guidelines in response to a recent increase in green advertising claims. When was the last time you heard of a government agency doing something before it originally planned to? Things must be getting bad.

According to a Washing Post article this week,

“The FTC, which was scheduled to review its guidelines in 2009, said that on Jan. 8, in the first of a series of public meetings, it would examine carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates that claim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in one place to offset emissions elsewhere.”

I’ve always been skeptical of green offsetting programs. (I only participate in one such program—green power from my local energy cooperative—and I’ve never been convinced that they’re actually doing something. But I continue to support it because, well, it makes me feel good.) It appears the FTC is also skeptical of such programs. Offsets have become a $55 million, unregulated market and some businesses have taken advantage of that situation. Again according to the Washington Post report,

“Some offsets support projects that would have gone forward anyway. Others promise results that are difficult to measure.”

Yes, it’s a sad state of affairs when businesses take advantage of a good cause to pull one over on the well-intentioned consumer just to make a buck.

Kermit sells his soulIt’s about time the FTC take another look. Things have changed so much since 1998, the last time the FTC made a major update to green marketing guidelines. There are businesses out there really trying to make a difference; meanwhile, we’ve got mega-corporations like Ford using my childhood friend Kermit The Frog to push hybrid SUVs that aren’t really all that green. (Where is Jim Henson when we need him?)

Reports are that consumers are demanding more, and they should be. But from what I see, we’re still not at the consumer capacity on this topic to even approach any kind of tipping point. We have a long way to go, so let’s not just sit back and wait for someone else to make the world greener for us. However, I’m well aware that this isn’t an effort that can be shoved down people’s throats. Rather, its a slow education process that begins with our customers, their children, and eventually—hopefully—our friends, co-workers parents, and beyond.

Its all about our habits of consumption, and we are slowly getting better. According to a Chicago Tribune article from Monday, the BBMG report that I wrote about in a November 16th post shows consumers are very interested in green products and services; that is, as long as the price is low and the quality is high. The Tribune put it this way:

“While 66 percent of more than 2,000 U.S. adults surveyed cited quality as the most important factor when deciding when to buy, followed by price with 58 percent, attributes such as a product’s country of origin, how energy efficient it is and its health benefits were all more important to consumers than convenience.”

As someone who encourages small businesses to go green with their products, services, practices and marketing, I’ll be watching to see how these new FTC regulations play out. Should be interesting.