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Greenwashed Car Ads Make People Feel Good About Polluting

Posted: 04/20/2012 3:11 pm

Greenwash Car Ads
Mazda angered some environmentalists by using one of their icons, the Lorax, in a commercial.

Despite all the hype about fuel efficient cars and the future of alternative fuels, there are few things more harmful to the environment than cars.

But the automakers know if they have any chance of selling cars to consumers, they need to wrap themselves up in a mantle of green. Environmentalists call this marketing "greenwashing" -- trying to make your product look more earth-friendly than it actually is.

Sure, cars are better today than they were back in 1970, when Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson decided we should start celebrating Earth Day every year on April 22. We stopped using leaded gas in cars. Automakers invented and started using catalytic converters -- which use platinum-plated ceramic balls to chemically clean exhaust before it spews out into the air. And states got tougher on smog emissions testing, keeping the worst polluting-cars off the road.

Still, no matter how you dice it, cars aren't good for the environment. They are made up of thousands of highly-processed parts that use a multitude of harsh chemicals. Many of those parts are made on the opposite side of the planet, and need to be shipped across the ocean in giant fuel-sucking ships. And no matter how your car is powered -- by gas, diesel, hydrogen or electricity from a coal-powered electricity plant -- your car is making an impact on the earth.

"The ad industry has stepped up to make you feel better about the things that are not green by making them feel green," said Graeme Newell, president of 602 Communications, a marketing research firm that helps companies figure out how consumers make emotional ties to inanimate objects."That's really what a lot of this greenwashing is about."

The Huffington Post has collected five recent examples of greenwashed car ads. Click through to see some of the worst offenders, plus one from the environmental lobby:

Mazda
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In February, Mazda launched a commercial that was tied in with the "Dr. Seuss' The Lorax" movie, saying its cars were "Cerified Truffula Tree Friendly." The move got environmentalists -- who consider Dr. Seuss's Lorax to be almost as holy as the Bible -- seething.

"Mazda and Universal have shamelessly turned a character who has inspired millions of children to care about the environment into a car salesman," read a petition to pull the ad from Change.org. "Cars -- even ones that pollute a little less -- are neither kid-friendly nor good for the environment."

Mazda stuck with its original plans for the ad after less than 600 people signed the Change.org petition, a spokesman said.

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