Green Leadership in Auto Industry: Marketing Ploy or a New Step in Corporate Responsibility

Every company interested in a profit has jumped on the green bandwagon recently. In the auto industry especially, every new model is advertised as being a hybrid, battery powered, or made with more sustainable production. Nearly 100 cars with over 30 combined miles per gallon were released in America in 2010 and 2011. Have auto companies suddenly seen the light and realized their role as leaders in society and dedicated themselves to protecting the public and the planet, or is it all marketing? The answer is, of course, it depends.

Auto companies are not non-profits — they never will be. But many have realized that corporate responsibility will be a necessity for survival in the future, in large part because customers are increasingly demanding social and environmental responsibility from the companies they patronize, and investors are following.

Companies have been quick to label themselves as responsible. A few million dollars in TV and magazine ads, and suddenly BP is “Beyond Petroleum” and Apple is the go-to company for anybody in Birkenstocks. Real change, though, requires much greater commitment. BP has shown itself to be anything but beyond petroleum, and Apple has one of the worst records of any technology company for taking responsibility for the massive amounts of e-waste produced by its products. As the tools available to consumers and investors increasingly enable them to see past this “green washing,” companies that have truly committed themselves to responsibility will increasingly see the benefits.

Some of the most powerful tools available for seeing past the layers of marketing are based on information that has been public for years. All public companies are required to publish their financial data and to file information about their waste emissions and energy consumption. By comparing a corporation’s revenue to its emissions, we can see how many dollars the company was able to earn per a given amount of waste. This figure can then be compared to that of its competitors within a given industry.

Looking at major auto companies ranked by their emissions and revenues in’s Green Car Companies comparison, for instance, it’s clear that not all manufacturers have been equal in their efforts toward green production. Not surprisingly, Toyota tops the rankings and Chrysler comes in at the bottom. Surprisingly, though, second among major manufacturers is BMW, with revenues over total carbon emissions of $58,445 compared to an industry-wide average $31,662. That beats Volkswagen’s $22,437 and competing Daimler’s $29,656.

The more prevalent tools like these become, the more empowered the environmentally conscious will be to reward companies making serious commitments with their patronage, creating a financial incentive for companies to either change for the better or lose a significant portion of their market.

Grace Nasri received her BA in Political Science and Global Studies at UC Santa Barbara and her MA in International Relations from New York University. Grace currently lives in southern California, where she blogs for the Huffington Post and works as the Managing Editor at, a comparison search engine.

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