Greenwashing – When green is just a word

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Signs above the sales floor of this auto dealership promise the green fantasy, but do the cars actually deliver? There could be some greenwashing at work here.

There's greenwashing afoot, Mr. Watson. Allow them to prove the mettle of their green claims. (Photo: Flickr)

Have you been greenwashed today? It’s more than likely, if you’ve watched television, read a magazine or surfed an auto website. America’s auto advertising is littered with promises that each automaker’s vehicles deliver on the green promise consumers have become conditioned to expect. Like trained seals, viewers bark with excitement over just how many trees they’ll be saving by driving the latest hybrid. While the truth behind automakers’ green claims is growing daily as technology advances, there remains reasonable suspicion that automakers continue to overpromise with vague notions of green miracles and a Walden-esque harmony with nature. That’s what is known in the media as greenwashing, and it’s something with which any auto loan-desiring consumer should become acquainted.

Greenwashing – Because global warming is grimy and dirty

How Stuff Works gives auto loan-desiring car consumers a crash course in what to look for on the greenwashing front. In the fantasy world where actual performance is supposed to match up with advertising claims, there are six “sins of greenwashing” that the marketing departments of automakers should avoid. In bite-sized form, take in these greenwashing lessons and know when auto advertising may be trying to yank your recycled, reconditioned, environmentally friendly hemp-fiber chain.

What are you giving up to go green?

There’s almost always a trade-off that auto advertising fails to mention during its pat-itself-on-the-back green party. For instance, How Stuff Works points to the English electric car Reva G-Wiz. Sure, the carbon emissions are taken care of, but it is technically not a car, it’s a “quadricycle.” Thus, it didn’t have to meet the same crash safety standards. If you take a look at that grown-up Micro Mini-Machine, you’ll see that a crash will likely kill the driver.

Prove your green claims, please

Greenwashing also means making promises that sound great but can’t easily be backed up by historical data. Saab was once challenged by Friends of the Earth Europe to prove auto advertising claims that their Biopower engines cut the CO2 output by 80 percent or face a lawsuit. Saab changed its advertising.

Perfumed clouds of greenwashed promises

Making broad statements that sound like sweet music are the stock in trade of advertisers and politicians (who are their own adpeople). When it comes to cars and greenwashing, how about the pie-in-the-sky numbers thrown around when talking miles per gallon? Rolling tests performed in a lab or on a special closed track will produce higher numbers than real on-the-road driving. The Guardian says Ford once advertised the Focus as getting 55 mpg on the open road. Independent testing produced a 42.5 mpg figure, which is 23.3 percent lower – hardly a statistical anomaly.

When low emissions aren’t low emissions

In auto advertising, the phrase “in its class” works like magic. With it, advertising sorcerers can weave a spell around the mind of the uninformed auto shopper without actually telling a lie. While the newest go-go-green vehicle may emit less CO2 into the atmosphere than another vehicle of similar type, that doesn’t mean that it has the lowest emission numbers on the block when compared with other car types and other automakers, says Climate Change Corp.

Innovation will drown out the greenwashing – eventually

None of this is intended to make President Obama’s call for more green vehicles sound like a carnival barker’s spiel. What auto-loan-wielding consumers should know is that they must always question the messages that bombard them, particularly when it comes to advertising. Greenwashing will continue to fade into the background as eco-tech advances, but it’s still a very real part of the way automakers try to get you to purchase their wares. Don’t immediately buy into vague promises about green automobiles. Ask questions and do your research.

(Photo Credit: / CC BY 2.0)

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