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Published on Friday, April 21, 2000 in the San Francisco Chronicle
Ford's Earth Day Greenwash
by Joshua Karliner and Kenny Bruno
THIS PAST WEEKEND some of Ford Motor Company's top executives came to San Francisco and climbed Nob Hill to kick off one of the most expensive -- and perhaps deceptive -- environmental advertising campaigns ever seen. They did so with a mini- parade, made-for-TV concert and reception to honor ``Heroes for the Planet.'' Ford has no moral authority to associate itself with environmental heroism. At least two ``heroes'' declined Ford's invitation for this reason. But that did not stop Ford from using this event to launch a PR campaign aimed at making over its negative ecological image with a fresh coat of green paint.

Ford is also the exclusive sponsor of Time magazine's ``Earth Day 2000 Special Edition -- How to Save the Earth and the Heroes for the Planet Who Are Making It Happen.'' Even worse, Ford is the exclusive advertiser in two special issues of Time for Kids, reaching 2.8 million elementary school students.

To top it off, Ford recently announced that all corporate brand advertising will have an environmental theme. Billboards, magazine ads, TV spots -- you name it. The company expects to spend as much on this greenwashing as it does to roll out a new line of cars. Ford has the money to make us listen to its rhetoric. But let's take a look at its record. We'll focus on this Earth Day's theme -- global warming.

Emissions from cars and light trucks account for about one quarter of all carbon emissions (by far the largest greenhouse gas). And Ford is the world's No. 2 automaker, so it is a major player. How has it done so far? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

--Ford's cars are the worst carbon emitters of any major automaker.

--Ford's SUVS are the worst carbon emitters of any major automaker.

--Ford's fuel efficiency trend is the worst of any automaker.

--In the decade since global warming became a public concern, average vehicle emissions for Ford increased 7.4 percent, the most of the Big Three automakers.

Ford still downplays the threat of global warming. On its Web site, it follows the industry strategy of shifting the blame to developing countries. Nowhere does it note that cars and light trucks alone in the United States account for more CO2 emissions than the entire emissions of all but four countries (the United States, Russia, China and Japan). Meanwhile, Ford is expanding its markets in the developing countries that it says should be part of the solution.

Ford says it has seen the light. Not that it's done anything wrong, mind you, but it's going to fix things anyway. It will build fuel-efficient, hybrid and electric cars. We should all hope that Ford and other automakers move quickly toward mass- producing, fossil fuel-free vehicles. But should we believe it, when company officials fail to admit any responsibility?

With corporate environmentalism, seeing is believing. And so far, what we see at Ford is greenwash.

Kenny Bruno and Joshua Karliner both work with the San Francisco-based Corporate Watch (, an Internet magazine.

2000 San Francisco Chronicle


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