Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Emperor's new clothes - Don't be bamboozled by green clothing claims states FTC

The FTC came down on four clothing companies this week for claiming that their clothing apparel was made of bamboo and environmentally friendly. In its findings against Sami Designs LLC, doing business as (DBA) Jonäno; CSE Inc., DBA Mad Mod; Pure Bamboo LLC and; the M Group Inc., DBA Bamboosa the FTC opened a lot of eyes as its complaint went beyond greenwashing.

While the companies could have been using bamboo as the basis for their clothing lines what the cited companies were selling to consumers under a green banner was in fact rayon.

Rayon, neither a natural or synthetic fiber, begins its journey to the store shelves as a cellulose fiber. Any plant or tree - including bamboo - can be used as the basis of the fiber. During the energy intensive manufacturing process of rayon the fiber source of the plant is dissolved in harsh chemicals. The process eliminates all natural properties of the bamboo plant and any claims to the benefit of bamboo clothing run counter to the science involved. Worse yet, hazardous air pollutants are emitted in the rayon process.

“With the tremendous expansion of green claims in today’s marketplace, it is particularly important for the FTC to address deceptive environmental claims, so that consumers can trust that the products they buy have the environmentally friendly attributes they want,” said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “When companies sell products woven from man-made fibers, such as rayon, it is important that they accurately label and advertise those products – both with respect to the fibers they use and to the qualities those fibers possess.”

Bamboo is not the only niche clothing market that has had troubles backing up its environmental claims.

Cotton, the undisputed king of fibers, has strayed from its roots to become a toxic environmental offender accounting for more than a quarter of all agricultural pesticide use. Organic cotton hopes to reverse that trend. Representing less than one half of one percent of global cotton production organic cotton faces an uphill battle for marketplace acceptance. An expensive proposition, organic cotton includes costly chemical process challenges to keep the boll organic in the growing and manufacturing phases. The cost threshold for consumers has led the industry to focus more of its environmental efforts on cleaner cotton.

Hemp, once an agricultural staple has seen a resurgence in popularity and applications as consumers and legislators now see the difference between hemp and its outlawed cousin cannabis. Using less land, one acre of hemp will produce as much fiber as 2-3 acres of cotton and contribute to a healthy, enriched, microbial soil life. As with cotton and bamboo clothing alternatives the problem with hemp has more to do with the unregulated manufacturing process in underdeveloped countries where the hemp is primarily milled.

Closer to home, clothing made from the durable, long fibers of hemp could be entering the mainstream sooner rather than later. Hanesbrands Inc. in partnership with Naturally Advanced Technologies Inc. announced this month that it is now developing a process facility for commercial grade organic hemp production in North Carolina.

Is America being bamboozled by misleading environmental claims? Jonäno, Mad Mod, and Pure Bamboo have agreed to settlements with the FTC and a final report may be issued at the FTC's discretion after September 10. Jonäno who has agreed to conform to the new labeling guidelines has issued a statement of its own that addresses the FTC's complaint.

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