An important lesson to green building product manufacturers: Only make green claims about your product’s benefits that are backed by third-party testing.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced on January 31, 2013 that it has fined Edward Sumpolec, the owner of three businesses (Thermalkool, Thermalcool, and Energy Conservation Specialists), for making “deceptive and unsubstantiated” claims about the R-value and energy efficiency benefits of his companies’ home insulation products. In particular, the companies made false claims about liquid coating and foil radiant barrier products. One paint was inaccurately advertised as having an R value of 100, and saving 40-60% on energy bills.

Sumpolec was fined $350,000, the maximum allowable penalty for making these claims without proper testing, failing to provide product fact sheets to customers, and for not making mandatory advertising disclosures (such as, “The higher the R-value, the greater the insulating power. Ask your seller for the fact sheet on R-values.”).

The FTC fined Sumpolec based on his violation of both the FTC Act and the R-value Rule. The R-Value Rule ensures that a customer gets honest, accurate information about insulation based on standard testing, and requires that manufacturers accurately label their products. Similarly, insulation installers and retailers must provide fact sheets for their products.

Other companies have been fined for violating the same rule, according to Triple Pundit’s article. For example, Meyer Enterprises paid $150,000 for claiming that it’s insulation barrier had almost four times the actual R-value. Environmate was also fined for claiming its insulation barrier had twice the actual R-value.

Lessons for Green Building Product Manufacturers and Customers

pnwra-gulf-islands-operations-cente2r150These cases serve as an important lesson to green building product manufacturers: make that the claims you make about your product’s benefits are backed by third-party testing. While the energy efficiency of a product, especially insulation, are dependent on a building’s climate, size, location, construction, and other factors, make sure you do the leg work to provide an accurate estimate. Check out the FTC’s specifications for the R-Value Rule, and see their other rulings to make sure that you comply. Failure to comply could result in heavy fines and could tarnish your company’s reputation.

These cases also serve as a reminder to customers: ask product manufacturers for fact sheets, and check that their energy efficiency claims have been backed up with third-party testing. If a company does not provide a fact sheet, or cannot prove that their product will save you as much energy and money as it says it does, find a company that will. See this article from the FTC about what to look for in home insulation.

CONTRIBUTING EXPERT

imageClaire Moloney

A recent graduate of Cornell University, where she studied Environmental Science and concentrated in Sustainable Development. Her interest in green building and LEED stems from her project-based coursework at Cornell, where she proposed design strategies for sustainable developments in Helena, MT and Ithaca, NY. Claire also exercised her passion for sustainability and energy conservation through extracurricular activities at Cornell, such as Solar Decathlon, Lights Off Cornell and Sustainability Hub. For the last three summers, she worked on energy projects at a town government, including an on-site hydrogen station and EECBG-funded activities.

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