AG Reaches Settlement with Distributor of Compact Florescent Bulbs Over Misleading Green Advertising
The settlement resolves the Commonwealth's claims that EarthTronics, Inc. violated the state's consumer protection laws by making representations in its ads that conveyed that the company was a conscientious environmental corporate citizen, even though at the time the company was out of compliance with the state's program for managing the disposal of waste mercury in the CFLs it sells. The company has since taken steps to comply with the state's mercury management program, which requires, among other things, that manufacturers like EarthTronics educate consumers about mercury and how to properly manage CFLs. Under the terms of the settlement, EarthTronics has agreed to refrain from making unsupported environmental claims in the future and has paid the Commonwealth $7,500 in investigation costs and penalties to resolve the matter.
EarthTronics was out of compliance with state mercury management laws by failing to submit a certification acknowledging compliance with the law; by failing to have in place a consumer education program regarding the mercury in its bulbs; and, by failing to provide information regarding proper disposal and recycling methods for mercury-added lamps.
"While using compact fluorescent light bulbs helps conserve energy, it is important that the bulbs are collected and recycled properly to protect our environment," said Attorney General Martha Coakley. "We will continue to pursue companies that project themselves as being stewards of the environment to attract customers, when in fact they are failing to comply with the Commonwealth's important environmental protection programs."
In February 2009, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection ("MassDEP") notified EarthTronics that is was out of compliance with the law, and thereafter issued the company a notice of enforcement, that resulted in Earth Tronics paying a $6,000 penalty in a consent order signed with MassDEP. Notwithstanding that, EarthTronics was not complying with the state's mercury management program, the company was making vague and unsubstantiated claims in their ads that conveyed that they were stewards of the environment, such as stating that the company's mission is to "look after our people [and] to be good stewards of the planet . . . ;" that "[q]uality of life begins with proper care of our environment . . .;" and that "At EarthTronics, we're not bound to specific products or technologies. We ARE committed to reducing the amount of energy our customers use. It's good for their bottom lines and it's good for our planet."
In December 2010, the Attorney General's Office notified EarthTronics about the Commonwealth's concerns regarding the advertising. As a result, the company worked with MassDEP to come into compliance with the mercury management program, and worked with the Attorney General's Office to avoid making misleading environmental advertising claims in the future.
"MassDEP will hold manufacturers and retailers accountable when it comes to complying with the state's comprehensive Mercury Management Act, which ensures safe handling and disposal of products containing mercury," said MassDEP Commissioner Kenneth L. Kimmell.
The state's Mercury Management Act, signed into law in July 2006, is designed to keep mercury, a toxic metal, out of our trash and wastewater. The law requires that manufacturers of products sold in the Commonwealth that contain mercury must have a plan for educating consumers about the mercury content in their products, and that the product should be recycled.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Goldberg, of AG Coakley's Environmental Protection Division, is handling the case. MassDEP attorney Robert Ritchie and the Business Compliance Division/Consumer Programs section chief Greg Cooper also provided assistance.