Environmental Labeling and Consumer Products: A History Of Policy, Regulation and Usage, 1990--2000

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication and Journalism

First Advisor

James Hall

Advisor Department

Mass Communication and Journalism


The nineties saw the development of environmental marketing as manufacturers aimed their campaigns toward the environmentally conscious consumer. The allure of green products to entice consumers was most apparent with the use of environmental labeling techniques. Environmental labeling, or eco-labeling, is a form of communication that is presented on product packaging and implies environmental qualities, such as "earth-friendly." As environmental claims grew during the 1990s, so did the use of vague and misleading claims to entice consumers. This misrepresentation of environmental labeling claims created skepticism by consumers and frustration for environmental organizations, governments, and marketers. This misuse led to the eventual actions by the federal government to provide guidance on the use of environmental claims. The following dissertation examines the development of policy and guidelines surrounding the use of environmental labeling since 1990. The research focused on governmental agencies that were involved in regulating the use of these labels, non-governmental organizations that were vocal about the use of eco-labels, and industry groups that played a major role in the establishment of environmental labeling policy. The findings of this research trace the development of the Federal Trade Commission guidelines from the recommendations laid out by the Attorneys General Task Force in their Green Reports to the current FTC guidelines. Both industry and environmental groups lobbied on the issue and were given ample opportunity by the FTC and Environmental Protection Agency to express their stand on regulation. Although only a small number of cases have been brought by the FTC since the early 1990s, the guides are considered effective in limiting the use of misleading claims. The guides have also resolved the issue of varying state regulations on environmental claims, as every state has adopted the FTC guides. Because the guides promote open trade and do not strictly regulate labeling claims, the FTC guides have been hailed as the standard for international trade labeling claims as the FTC worked closely with international organizations in the development of international standards.