Santa Monica Lookout
Santa Monica Dry Cleaners Must Drop Eco-Friendly Claims, Officials Say
By Jason Islas
January 23, 2013 -- Six Santa Monica dry cleaners have agreed to drop “general claims” about offering environmentally friendly dry cleaning services in their advertising after an investigation revealed they could not support those claims.
Cleaner By Nature, Courtyard Cleaners, Dry Clean Express, Eco Cleaners, Plaza Cleaners and TJ Cleaners have agreed to drop phrases like "non-toxic" or “environmentally safe” from their advertising after City officials found that their claims were too broad to be substantiated.
“It's not proper to say 'eco-friendly' without something more specific,” said Adam Radinsky, the head of Santa Monica's Consumer Protection Unit, referring to the Federal Trade Commission's “Green Guides,” a set of standards businesses must abide by when advertising “green” products or services.
“It is deceptive to misrepresent, directly or by implication, that a product, package, or service offers a general environmental benefit,” according to the FTC. “Unqualified general environmental benefit claims are difficult to interpret and likely convey a wide range of meanings.”
OSE Director Dean Kubani said, “Their marketing is confusing the public.”
One of the six businesses involved uses a chemical known as D5 in its dry cleaning process, staff said, while the others use a hydrocarbon-based dry cleaning process.
While D5 is less toxic than its predecessor, perchloroethylene or “perc,” Kubani said City officials “are not convinced that it is a non-toxic product and neither is the State of California."
The same is true of the hydrocarbon process.
Dry cleaners throughout California have been moving away from perc because it is a known carcinogen, officials said.
One of the most common brands of D5 is sold by a company called GreenEarth, based in Missouri.
GreenEarth advertises its product as doing “more to preserve our clean air and water supply than any other eco-friendly method of dry cleaning,” according to its website.
“With other green dry cleaning methods, it costs more to pollute less. GreenEarth is good for the planet and your bottom line,” the site reads.
Kubani said that most companies who use GreenEarth “probably feel pretty safe marketing their product as” environmentally safe due to GreenEarth's own marketing claims.
Radinsky said, “We’re glad these companies have started using less toxic chemicals, but marketing them as ‘eco-friendly’ just goes too far.”
According to Radinsky, these cleaners are mostly “ma and pa” operations.
Though GreenEarth claims to “do more” to preserve the environment, Kubani said there are “greener” methods out there, such as carbon dioxide cleaning.
Carbon dioxide cleaning is “probably the greenest type of cleaning you can do,” he said. In Santa Monica, only Brentwood Royal Cleaners on 26th Street uses that method.
In 2009, Council member Kevin McKeown asked staff to draft an ordinance that would limit dry cleaners to using only non-toxic methods, which would essentially make carbon dioxide cleaning the only possible method.
The Council never took up the ordinance.
As businesses increasingly advertise themselves as environmentally friendly, Santa Monica's Consumer Protection Unit is on the lookout for “greenwashing,” Radinsky said.
“Greenwashing” refers to deceptive advertising that makes a product or service seem more environmentally friendly than can be substantiated.
"More and more consumers want eco-friendly products," said Radinsky. "It's big business these days. That makes it all the more important for consumers to be sure that the advertising claims are true."
And not always are misleading advertisements factually wrong, but they often play off a consumer's lack of knowledge about certain terms, experts say.
One cleaner claimed that their hydrocarbon-based cleaning method was “organic,” Kubani said.
Though in the vernacular, “organic” has come to mean “healthy” or “environmentally friendly," the chemical definition of an organic compound is any chemical compound containing carbon.
In that sense, hydrocarbon cleaning is technically organic, but that doesn't say anything about whether or not it is a healthy or environmentally friendly method, Kubani said.
Advertising hydrocarbon cleaning as “organic,” since it is technically true, isn't a violation of the guidelines, Kubani said.
Radinsky said that all six of the cleaners involved were “refreshingly cooperative,” adding that they were all curious to know what the FTC guidelines actually are.
As of press time, none of the stores' owners returned calls for comment.
The FTC's Green Guide can be found here: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2012/10/greenguides.pdf
Consumers should report any questionable environmental advertising claims to the City Attorney's Office by calling 310-458-8336 or visiting smconsumer.org.
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