The New GM: Greenwashing Motors?

Image via Edmunds AutoObserver

Image via Edmunds AutoObserver

I heard on NPR last week that a “new General Motors” (GM 2.0?) has emerged from its bankruptcy proceedings. One of the things mentioned in the story was that GM was going to change its logo from blue to green to emphasize a new environmental focus. “Oh brilliant,” I thought, “that’s what they need, ever-cruder greenwashing.” The soon-to-be-former-Hummer-purveyors would instantly instead be known for the long-touted-but-not-yet-available Chevrolet Volt (what’s the word for a vaporware car?), so bring out the green primer! This was reported by the Associated Press and thus picked up by numerous news outlets. However, it has subsequently been reported by CNN and others that GM has no plans to change the colour of the logo.

Yesterday, Jim Nicolow at the Greenwash Brigade repeated the story of the green logo but decided to withhold his cynicism about the company’s purported move. Don’t hold back Jim! Even though they apparently aren’t going ahead with this transparently-crude makeover, the last thing GM needs to do is more disingenuous greenwashing (is that redundant?). Over the past few years, as we have seen GM decline, we watched them kill off the EV1, promote their environmentally-questionable and fuel-inefficient line of E85 (85% ethanol ready) vehicles, and struggle to get the Volt rolling.

We all know how well these two worked out together.

We all know how well these two worked out together.

GM’s “Live Green, Go Yellow” campaign has pretty much evaporated, but they continue to tout biofuels generally within their “gas friendly to gas free” campaign. Under this banner they promote not only their fuel-efficient vehicles, but also their flex-fuel (E85 capable) and hybrid vehicles, the Volt, and imaginary hydrogen fuel cell cars. I understand why GM has pursued its greenwashing strategies, but if the company is going to re-invent itself (and all US taxpayers have a financial stake in its success), it needs to reinvent its communication strategies as well. Please GM, no more BS greenwashing by waving about technologies of dubious value (such as corn-derived E85) or that aren’t yet widely available (such as the Volt, and fuel cell cars). Stop simply thinking of environmental concern as a market niche and start taking the need for real triple-bottom-line sustainability seriously. Less talk, more substantive change please.

Soon I’ll have some things to say about another car company whose greenwashing drives me nuts.

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About Mark S. Meisner

Executive Director of the International Environmental Communication Association (IECA). I also research, teach, write about, and speak on environmental and sustainability communication, media, culture, and policy. Facts are usually facts, but opinions and sense of humour are always my own.
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