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Seems like commonsense advice, no? Not if the messaging is unclear.

This week’s announcement regarding the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) settlement with five replacement window companies over misleading energy-efficiency and money-saving claims (or “greenwashing”) calls to mind a seminar I attended at the EcoBuild Conference in December 2009 surrounding the marketing language used to promote environmentally conscious products. During the course of the seminar, the presenter asked the audience if they knew what terminology like “eco-friendly” or “eco-safe” mean. I, for one, could not tell you. The implication is clear — they do less than damage than products that don’t carry such labels — but the exact degree to which they are better for the environment is vague.

As I noted in last year’s energy-efficiency issue of Country’s Best Cabins, there are basically three types of green labels: Type I (multi-attribute, third-party-verified eco-labels or seals of approval, such as Energy Star), Type II (self-declared environmental claims developed by the producer) and Type III (environmental product declarations based on quantified environmental information). Although there’s no direct comparison toward a “best” label, suffice it to say, if someone else has to verify the claims, the statements are probably going to be more accurate than those that are self-regulated. The FTC also published proposed revisions on its Guides for the Use of Environmental Marketing Claims in October 2010, but to my knowledge, no finalizations have been issued of yet.

If you want to know more about environmental claims, check out the FTC’s environment consumer awareness page, which includes guidance on everything from EnergyGuide appliances to lighting. And, in light of this week’s announcement, a refresher on window shopping is probably not a bad either — whether for your new cabin or as replacements to your current home.

What "green" terminology, if any, has you confused?

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