Thanks man! Below, The Callus responds to me about GM’s new green campaign. The issue ties into GM contacting me to plug their green campaign called “Carbon Stories” on my tumblr. I posted something last month about it, publicly questioning various aspects of their intent and sincerity. Privately, though, I complained to their PR contact that 1) the public would be confused by some of the content, and 2) that enviros would double down and criticize GM on hypocritical grounds. In addition to Carbon Stories videos, GM is now labeling some cars as being environmentally friendly. USA Today’s Wendy Koch covered the labeling issue, calling into question effectiveness.
Have a read below, and follow thecallus…
You talkin’ ‘bout the car or the cash?
The excellent author of Climate Adaptation asked for my take on GM’s new green branding. Specifically, GM is rolling out new labeling on its Chevrolet brand, starting with the Chevy Sonic. The label is designed to indicate that the manufacturing processes used to produce the car are “green”:The company said the Ecologic label, which will appear on the rear driver-side window, is the first of its kind in the automotive industry to detail how a vehicle is made, saves fuel and can be recycled. In the Sonics’ case, it says the engine and transmission are built in a factory that sends zero waste to landfills, and its final assembly plant (located in the U.S.) is cooled and heated 20% by landfill gas. Also, it says about 85% of the car is recyclable.
Do you have any idea if those statistics indicate that the car is “green”? I haven’t the faintest clue. My suspicion is that neither do consumers. The most likely outcome, cognitively, when certain people see the labeling is to preference the green products without much of a basis for comparison. We see this time and again with Energy Star labels or “certified organic” labels, which are often subverted to drive marginal profit rather than eco-conscious consumption.
So why is GM doing this in the first place? It’s pretty easy to accuse GM of maybe using this label to eke some more margin out of its Sonic, which is a low-end car in a traditionally-weak segment for domestic automakers. The likes of the Aveo and Focus have traditionally been unable to take on Fits, Accents, Versas, Civics, Souls, Corollas, etc. because of GM’s higher price points. It also burnishes that “Buy American” cred while enhancing the General’s Volt-lead (and entirely unearned) “green” branding.
Maybe it isn’t so bad; after all, a label is a good step toward consumer education about how their cars are made. Of course, they chose Chevy because Cadillacs get assembled in Mexico - I wonder how that sucker gets refrigerated? This is the sort of thing that should be imposed on manufacturers globally and incorporated into trade discussions. Without standards, selective labeling is more about deception than education. It’s about getting 20-somethings who want to “be green” to pick a Chevy Sonic over cheaper options with better gas mileage and powerful brand histories of reliability and safety.
After all, GM’s Chinese growth in its joint venture with SAIC is a big story too. Less so the pollution pouring into the sky over China, and how Chinese corporations in conjunction with Western partners helped kill the Kyoto Protocol. I’m not inclined to believe that a company with a history of lobbying with Exxon against international anti-pollution agreements is somehow reformed thanks to a car no one buys with a lithium-ion battery that destroys the environment and a couple of green stickers on cherry-picked best-behavior cars. You still make all your money on big cars, Detroit; don’t blow green smoke up my tailpipe.
In other, more obvious words, color me skeptical.