When it comes to defending its green cred, Dell (s DELL) is not exactly a wallflower. The Texas-based computer manufacturer, which has been making one of the most substantial efforts in the industry to produce more environmentally sound products and shrink its carbon footprint, has taken to task competitor Apple’s (s APPL) latest claims about having “the world’s greenest family of notebooks” — first in a smackdown post on its company blog, and now with a complaint filed with the advertising industry’s self-regulator, a forum for reviewing the truthfulness of claims in ads and marketing .
The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, or NAD, delivered a bittersweet decision on Dell’s complaint yesterday. As the New York Times Green Inc. blog reports this morning, NAD concluded that Apple can legitimately market its latest generation of MacBooks as being greener than some product lines from a given competitor (the new MacBooks earn high Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT ratings), but that “world’s greenest” has “potential for overstatement.”
According to a release from NAD about the ruling, the agency noted in its decision that:
[T]he advertiser has specifically undertaken to design all of its MacBooks to reduce their negative environmental impact, as reflected in EPEAT ratings, and that it should be free to communicate that information to consumers…While other manufacturers may have subcategories of lines with similar ratings, none has comparable high ratings for all of the notebooks it produces
In order to prevent confusion among consumers, NAD recommends that Apple adjust its tagline “to make clearer that the basis of comparison is between all MacBooks to all notebooks made by a given competitor,” and “avoid the reference to ‘world’s greenest.'”
Apple interpreted this as a hands-down win, thanking NAD in a statement “for confirming that its MacBooks, as compared to all of the notebooks made by any given manufacturer, are the world’s greenest notebook computers,” and telling Green Inc. that the “ruling is a clear victory for Apple.” We’ll be curious to see if and how the company takes NAD’s recommendations to heart and tweaks the tagline.
This challenge from Dell comes at a time when legislators are taking a closer look at how to regulate green marketing claims. We wrote earlier this month about a House subcommittee hearing dubbed “It’s Too Easy Being Green,” in which the associate director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection’s enforcement division at the Federal Trade Commission testified that “In the past few years, there has been a virtual tsunami of environmental marketing,” — some of it reflecting genuine innovations in efficiency, recycling and materials use, and some of it representing plain greenwash.
Dell has been part of that tsunami, promoting its top ranking on Technology Business Research’s inaugural Corporate Sustainability Index Benchmark Report for 2009, and touting its systems as “Green by Design.” Back in December, when Dell posted that first smackdown about Apple’s “world’s greenest” ad campaign, Dell VP of Communities & Conversations Bob Pearson wrote that the company wanted to have a discussion about “the real meaning of being green.” With new regulations in the pipeline, there’s now more at stake than consumer perception and the conclusions of the industry’s self-policing body — pretty soon Dell and Apple could be looking at stricter standards for regulatory compliance. So now that the discussion has begun, it’s about to get a lot more interesting.