The Greenwash: Why Not, Toyota?

Earlier this month, Toyota launched a new ad campaign championing their eco-cred. Called "Why Not?," the campaign will--at about $40 million--ring in as the largest in their history, and the focal tv spot can already be seen all over primetime. So why are so many environmental groups including the NRDC, crying foul? This is, after all, the company that brought to market the Prius--the shiniest symbol of the ever-mounting green wave--and, yes, Toyota's fleet is the most fuel efficient out there, and they're at least half a decade ahead of Detroit in efficiency technologies. Hasn't Toyota earned the right to flaunt themselves as some sort of eco-champion of the road?

Well, not exactly. You see, Toyota's been rather embroiled of late in a bit of controversy over their stance on federal fuel economy standards. They've joined ranks with the Big Three in lobbying hard against a provision in the currently-debated energy bill that'd raise American fuel efficiency standards from 25 to 35 mpg. (Which would save America 1.2 million barrels of oil every day, more than we import from Saudi Arabia. Warrants mentioning.)

Toyota's position here is puzzling. Particularly considering that they could already meet a 35 mpg standard in Europe and Japan, and could easily make the mark here in the U.S. without much trouble. I'm not the only one confused. As word of Toyota's spread, they were pretty quickly battered with criticism from environmental groups and their own climate-concerned customers alike. Amongst the most vocal critics were the NRDC, who quickly built a site highlighting the hypocrisy and asking "How Green Is Toyota?"

The "Why Now?" campaign is pretty clearly a direct response to this outcry. To kick off the campaign, a print ad ran in major newspapers around the country, a rhetorically sappy "vision" for the company:

Two words that are filled with possibilities.
They can turn a challenge into an opportunity.
An obstacle into an inspiration.
It's a question we ask ourselves at Toyota every day.
Because we're continuously looking for new ways to improve what we do. By asking tough questions.
Can we make a car that has zero emissions?
Can we improve the economy of a community?
Can we enrich the lives of people around us?
Why not?

The blatant hypocrisy of Toyota's words and their current political positions have been noted by plenty. In Brandweek, Jim Kliesch of the Union of Concerned Scientists accuses the company of "speaking out of both sides of its mouth" and NRDC's own Devon Lovass gives them considerable grief in a recent blog post.

So here's a company that could easily meet the reasonable fuel economy standards proposed; a company that's built an incredible brand image upon superior innovation, an image they're forcibly (and expensively) lauding in this new ad campaign. Why then won't Toyota get behind this crucial bit of legislation that is entirely congruous with everything the company's products--and now advertisements--stand for.

"Why not?" is exactly right.

[To add your voice to the crescendoing chorus of those calling out Toyota on their stubborn fuel efficiency standards stance, check out the NRDC's Take Action page and send a note directly to the CEO.]