RAN Supporters Shut Down GM Greenwashing Site!

Written by Robin

Topics: Oil

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Last week RAN supports shut down one of the biggest and most ambitious online corporate greenwashing campaigns.

To mark its 100th anniversary two weeks ago, General Motors launched a new interactive website, gmnext, where the public was encouraged to submit photos, videos and comments in order to help the company answer questions like “how should GM best address global energy issues we’ll face for the next 100 years?”

Yeah, it’s typical corporate greenwashing, but with a new “web 2.0″ spin where the company pretends to care what the public thinks.

So last week we posted photos on the site of student activists in Michigan protesting at the Detroit auto show. Then we asked our supporters to go comment on the site and tell GM what the public really thinks about how the automakers should address global warming and energy issues.

GM’s response? They turned off public comments.

So much for the fancy interactive that GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz said “encourages open and honest interaction.”

I guess it wasn’t really public discussion the company wanted. Big surprise.

One of GM’s PR flacks claimed that they were shutting off the interactive features because “we have no intention of letting a vocal set of activists highjack the conversation with invective and dogmatic misinformation.”

What were these comments filled with “invective and dogmatic misinformation” actually like?

“GM needs to stop thinking of “green” as an advertising term and nothing more. Really committing to better gas mileage and alternative fuels–NOT including ethanol, which is not environmentally sound–will be better publicity for you than mere sloganeering.”

“Since the most famous quote from Ioccoca, “How much clean air do we really need?”, the auto industry has let the public down. Most citizens believe that the auto industry has it’s hands in the oil pockets as well. Whether that is true or not, we will never know. What we do know is that the “green” options are simply not good enough. We don’t wish to see the auto industry pat themselves on the back for what we perceive as a poor job. It is just not good enough yet. This group pushes so that the industry doesn’t stop working on it. No pats are deserved yet. Cutting emissions is great, but we want better. So less patting on the back and more work is what they want.. I have to fully agree. What the production of these batteries do to the enviroment is disgusting. We have a long way to go. No kudo’s until this job is done and done responsibly. Ethanol is not a solution either. It takes just as much energy to produce as oil.. so where is the benefit, and now people are starving due to the lack of corn. Iceland uses meat that is unconsumable. Why are we not? A better job has been done by other countries.. step up to the world plate please and stop patting..”

Sounds less like dogma than clear well-reasoned comments by people who care.

Of course, GM is shutting down the interactive features of their new marketing campaign because the comments they got aren’t in line with their branding, not because they are inaccurate, mean-spirited, or dogmatic.

My take: I think that as more and more companies move towards trying to use fake “web 2.0″ “interactive” features to promote their greenwashing, we’re going to keep on them and show through our actions that the public isn’t going to let them get away with anything short of real action. Greenwashing on the web isn’t going to be easy for them.

So I say thank you to everyone who helped shut down one of the biggest greenwashing campaigns by one of the most powerful corporations on earth.

23 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. betty says:

    If you read through all of the comments submitted by users, the one you cited was the most coherent one. So many of the comments were things like “make it green”, “do more green stuff.” How is that possibly helpful.

  2. Robin says:

    Yes, not all of the comments were as clear and expressive as these. But do things like “build greener cars” really sound invective or dogmatic? If they had said “the people who are commenting are not leaving long enough explanations of specific policy proposals,” that would have been different (albeit just as absurd a reason to stop allowing public comments).

  3. Emily says:

    How is it you can criticize GM for not allowing your readers to spam their site with repetitive (and somewhat inane) comments, while on this very forum you have

    “All comments offered in the spirit of civil conversation are welcome! Commercial spam, obscenity and other rude behavior are not, and will be removed.”

    as a notice for all potential contributors? And how does spamming the same comment consist of a conversation? Seems hypocritical at best to me.

  4. I just want to clarify that GM hasn’t shut down GMnext.com, removed the pictures of protestors at NAIAS, or even taken down the comments that were posted. We simply shut down the comments to that particular area because the majority of them were either personal attacks or of the cut-and-paste/campaign variety. As I said in my explanation, “dialogue” does not mean “open to demagogues.”

    That said, we are planning to have an open forum — possibly even a series of them – in the coming weeks where we will address green jobs, the quest for 100 mpg cars and other pressing environmental issues like the ones raised by the more thoughtful commenters — and we will notify RAN when that date is set. We’ll welcome reasoned comments like the two comments you included above and we’ll look forward to a conversation about these issues and what GM is doing to address them. Thanks.

    Christopher Barger
    Director, Global Communications Technology
    General Motors

  5. Robin says:

    First, I’m not criticizing GM for shutting down the comments feature of their site, I’m just pointing out that they claim to welcome public feedback, but once the feedback didn’t conform to their marketing agenda, they cut it off.

    Second, I think it is important to point out that we didn’t ask people to spam the site, we asked them to tell GM what they really thought. That hardly feels like spam.

    We didn’t provide any text for people to cut and paste, we just asked for them to express their feelings and to support those brave students.

    Most of the comments from our supporters were very well thought out, passionate, and written with clarity and insight.

    I think that if GM found that comments were rude, commercial, or obscene and then deleted those particular comments, that would be fine.

    But that’s not what they did.

  6. Luke says:

    Good work, Robin. I’m certainly looking forward to substantive discussion on the topics mentioned by Christopher above, and I don’t think I’m alone.

  7. Robin says:

    Sorry to reply twice, but while I was writing, Mr. Barger’s comment went up. I welcome the chance for continued dialog, but I want to make twwo quick clarifications.

    He said that “We’ll welcome reasoned comments like the two comments you included above.” But that’s not true, GM is explicitly NOT welcoming any comments, reasoned or not.

    Also, I think it is important to notice that GM only allowed us to post certain pictures from the event. At least two images didn’t pass their review, neither of which was offensive or rude.

    My question for Mr. Barger: If each comment gets reviewed anyway, why not allow people to continue to comment and just delete any that are personally offensive?

  8. Aaron says:

    Public forum on green jobs and 100 mpg cars hosted by GM? What will GM if the forum really represents what people really want: for automakers like GM to take responsibility for their environmental, economic and community impact (especially in Michigan) and to start producing the ultra efficient, oil-free, zero emission vehicles that we all really want to drive?

  9. Nick says:

    In response to Mr Barger’s post:

    Wow – RAN has one of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world coming onto their blog to try and placate them in hopes of being left alone. Barger’s actions speak more powerfully than his words. Way to go, RAN!

  10. Doug Ward says:

    I’ll be interested to see what they have to say.
    If they’d refocus the engineering dept to battery technologies instead of trying to put plasma TV’s in the back seat they might even accomplish something.Chrysler has a gemcar that is pretty neat.
    All GM would have to do is upsize something like it with super battery technology and they’d have it. The fatcats in the M-pyre still want their fluff. THATS the problem

  11. Christopher Lecznar says:

    I read through a few of those comments and was rather disapointed.(granted I wrote a one myself) Most of them were just people heckling GM. With that all we’re doing is attacking the effect rather than the cause; we will never accomplish anything as long as we keep attacking the effect. We need to give legitimate solutions to the problems and not just our opinions.

  12. Luke says:

    @C. Lecznar: A lot of what RAN’s campaign has been about is pointing out the fact that viable technologies already exist that could really help the situation, but automakers have so far been unwilling to take the leap and bring them to mass market. PHEVs, for instance, already work well, yet all we have so far are vague promises and concept vehicles. So it seems that the automakers just don’t value low emissions as much as we feel they should. In that sense, we are expressing an opinion: they should get off their asses and bring the solutions that have already been shown to work to market. So far, they have been unwilling or too feeble to make the change.

  13. Chris Casper says:

    Doesn’t matter what GM offers for an explaination. They produce and sell Hummers so that is enough for me. I have a GM as our 2nd car, when it goes, my next car will be a Toyota as is the new Camry Hybrid we just purchased this summer.

  14. Jennifer Harlan says:

    OK, the comment about them producing the hummer is kind of silly. We live in a society that is driven by capitalism (not my picture of an ideal world, but, hey, I live in America). I think the hummer is a bad idea and a bad car for both the environment, and the pocketbook, but, I am not GM’s customer. I own a Toyota Prius, and my husband owns a Nissan Altima (would have been a hybrid, but we live in the wrong state for that). The american public enjoys their hummers, and they are willing to pay for them, and if GM wasn’t producing them, someone else would be. Yes, I think we should be pushing them to make better, greener, zero emission cars, but badmouthing them for producing something that obviously has a niche on american roads is unproductive. As technology gets better (through use and testing), as demand for the cars we want on the road increases, as demand for the monster trucks, suv’s, and hummers goes down, then GM and its competitors will switch gears and focus where we want. I think we should be focusing on the customers, not the car companies.

  15. Luke says:

    @Jennifer: The SUV strategy was a very conscious decision on the part of American automakers. They decided to market high-cost, high-emissions vehicles in order to make a large profit on each sale and compensate for the poor performance of their other offerings. Rather than innovating across their fleet in response to consumer disinterest, they decided on a marketing push to sell outsized monstrosities like the hummer in order to make up for losses elsewhere. It was a lazy, stopgap strategy that didn’t even help them in the long run.

    Changing the behavior of individuals is important, sure, but people in positions to make large-scale decisions have a lot more ability to make rapid change. Saying that it should all be left to individuals reduces our ability to change things to the sum of our individual actions as consumers. The environmental movement, as RAN sees it, is about coming together as human beings–not just isolated consumers–and taking collective action to avert ecological disaster. If we’re to have any hope of avoiding the worst effects of climate change, we’re going to have to act collectively. That means convincing car manufacturers to take the leap and bring greener cars to market; it also means forcing them to conform to tougher fleet average emissions.

    More of the decisions that truly affect our lives are made in boardrooms than legislative chambers. Limiting our voice in those decisions to the contents of our bank accounts is a recipe for tyranny and disaster.

  16. To RAN Staff, Well, we only have from now ’til 2012. What we will need more than ever is massive electric car conversions [from gas to electric] CEV’s, for older cars & trucks. The US Gov’t will have to give out grants to low to middle income people so they can have their older cars & small trucks converted. Will also need to convert all big trucks to bio-diesel or electric. Also the nations rail freight system & all tractor-trailer & hasmats will have to convert to trolley electric powered by wind, solar, & micro-hydro, or bio-diesel.The rail passenger lines & Amtrak will have to do the same.All oceanliners & ocean & lake freight will have to run on bio-diesel or electric. All passenger & freight airlines will be either bio-jet fuel or electric prop.All home or office heating oil will become bio-fuel. And no more coal-fired furnaces & power plants,as well as nuke plants, to be replaced by wind,solar, & micro-hydro. Is this what Al Gore said? NO—but I believe he said we have until 2012. After that, theres no reversal of Global Warming.

  17. Catherine says:

    I just came across this site today and after reading all the blogs I must agree with the last one. We have until 2012 to get things right. But people and government do not really beleive this or they would take this seriously and all Americans and other countries would scramble to stop the destuction of our planet earth. Many of those who have money to burn think they will just buy their way though this disaster facing our world, but they are blinded by the gold in thier pockets. those who can’t afford to go green and want to have to just sit and make do with whatever they can afford. Politicians are blinded by power and greed; the few exceptions eventually give up in dispair of not being able to do what they really want to do to help this country and the world. We have a President who has shown by his deeds that he cares little to nothing about the earth’s environment. His head is stuck in the sand. theres no reversal of Global Warming.we only have from now ’til 2012

  18. Christopher Barger says:

    It’s great to see a healthy debate going about the role of both the individual and industry on important environmental issues. As I promised earlier, we are beginning a series of chats on GMnext.com and our first topic will cover the balance between how a company communicates its environmentally-focused actions and how it follows through on those actions.

    To kick-off the series GM executive Brent Dewar will be on hand to discuss GM’s environmental policies and programs and answer your questions on Wednesday, February 6 from noon to 1 p.m. EST. To access the chat, go to the Live Chat section of GMnext.com and register with your e-mail address. On the day of the chat, click the “Enter Chat” button and join the conversation. Also, feel free to check out the video where Brent explains Brent explains his passion for the environment and the work he does for GM.

    We’ll follow-up shortly with a schedule of additional chat participants that will include both GM and third-party experts to cover the topics being raised on GMnext.com including ethanol, hybrids, green jobs, the Chevy Volt and more. We hope you can join us.

    Christopher Barger
    Director, Global Communications Technology
    General Motors

  19. Chia says:

    What the heck, theres lots of vehicles out there that get way worse gas mileage than the Hummer. People just like to get on the bandwagon. When your weak Prius is in the ditch during a winder storm, whos going to pull you out?? And Im pulling a 6500lb trailer, is a Prius going to pull that also?? If you want to be green, stop driving. A 100mpg car is still using gas. And so does a Prius. I saw one at the gas station the other day next to me as I was filling up my 6.0L engine!!!!

  20. Hut`ShmmY says:

    GM GAGO KAH TALAGA PUTANG INA MO!!!!!!!!

  21. Nice looking blog. Which template are you using? Nice post as well!

  22. lilly says:

    what are the layers of the rainforest

  23. jane says:

    i just loveeeeeeee the eviormant it so interesting i cannot believe this beatiful place is being destroyed please help me im losing control love janey joos

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. The Understory » UPDATE: GM Responds to RAN Activists!
  2. The Understory » GM folds under pressure: greenwashing 2.0 and the aesthetic of authenticity

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