Fw: [GRRN] SUV redux

RecycleWorlds (anderson@msn.fullfeed.com)
Tue, 2 Mar 1999 12:12:24 -0600


Until I got to your last paragraph defending the company's that make
oversize SUVs (below), I was firmly of the view that you were off-base.
Let me try to recapitulate from a different (but, I think, more productive)
angle for devising a practical strategy for a better world OVER THE LONG

Yes, clearly, in terms of short-term analysis, a part of the problem --
albeit not the entirety of the problem -- is the consumer. You do,
however, grossly overstate it. The part which you seem to ignore is the
role of advertising -- driven by marketing the highest margin products
($200 for economy models, $15,000 for SUV's) -- in creating those self-same
consumer needs.

But, no, for the long term that is not what is important. And the
limitations imposed when the question is artificially constrained to be how
to achieve the small incremental gains that short term analysis imposes
misses the point.

In that longer view, stigmatizing suv's -- like happened with
smoking -- is a productive route for those who believe that their
"footprint" is not sustainable, and that process is obviously more
effective when attacking the corporations pushing the "bad" product than
the consumer (justified, again, by the fact that needs are, in significant
part, a function of advertising induced needs).

The excellent point that you implicitly raise is how best to stigmatize
SUV's. Here I agree, holier than thou pronouncements can backfire, in the
same way that the chemical/processing industry attempts to turn around
Michael Jacobson's Center for Science in the Public Interest attacks on
various food products as unhealthy by pretending that the real issue is
Michael "telling" John Q public what is good for him and what to eat.

To that, I think that the nub of the effective attack for Michael as
for one on SUVs is to focus on the advertising inducements for greedy 25%
markup profits etc. -- i.e. the equivalent to addictive nicotine -- not
that the mass of Americans are bad people, because, at the core, stripped
of the tentacles of advertising, not.

Peter Anderson
RecycleWorlds Consulting
4513 Vernon Blvd. Ste. 15
Madison, WI 53705-4964
Phone:(608) 231-1100/Fax: (608) 233-0011

-----Original Message-----
From: Roger M. Guttentag <rgutten@concentric.net>
To: greenyes@ucsd.edu <greenyes@ucsd.edu>
Date: Tuesday, March 02, 1999 9:22 AM
Subject: Re: [GRRN] SUV redux

At 08:51 AM 3/1/99 -0600, you wrote:
Ford Defends Massive New SUV
> Ford Defends Massive New SUV
> AP Auto Writer=
> DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) _ Ford Motor Co., defending itself from
> attacks by environmental groups, says its hulking, nine-passenger
> Excursion sport utility vehicle will be among the safest and
> cleanest-running SUVs on the market.
Dear Peter and Greenyes:

I probably will get in trouble with some of you for these remarks but here
goes. The attacks by environmentalist organizations on Ford Motor for
creating the Excursion SUV appears misdirected and, in some ways, may be
unfair. As a U.S. based company, Ford has a social and legal responsibility
to produce goods and services on an environmentally sound basis and to
insure that these goods or services, once delivered, function in a manner
that conforms to legally established environmental regulations. Let's
assume (for purposes of this discussion only) that Ford's production of the
Excursion meets both of these criteria. The problem, however, is that the
product's design premise is fundamentally unsound in that it promotes
energy consumption of a non-renewable energy resource. This problem would
not go away even if the energy source was renewable since renewable energy
production, such as large scale hydro, can have its own negative
environmental consequences. Obviously, the preferred path, with respect to
environmental sustainability, are products that function on the basis of a
small, benign environmental "footprint." However, these products will be
produced only in response to personal and commercial demand for them which,
in turn, is a function of personal and societal values that makes them
central to a shared vision of what consititutes the good and just life. As
we all know, we are not there yet.

To return to the main focus of my discussion, Ford's development of the
Excursion may not be legally wrong (assuming that it does not violate regs.
regarding average fleet fuel efficiency) and it reflects the fact that it
is responding to a segment of its market who does not believe that using
this type of product is morally wrong. So, we should really be directing
our protests at the buyers and not Ford. However, this course of action is
neither politically practical nor advisable while directing organized
protests at corporations, as a practice, is both well established and
politically useful for rallying your supporters. Unfortunately, business
corporations as they are currently conceived, are not designed to be moral
explorers, innovators or guardians. Their job is to provide goods and
services at a profit to their owners while both conforming to and properly
reflecting the moral expectations of the societies they function within.
Some may argue that, for this very reason, we need to overhaul the concept
of the modern corporation. That may be so but it does not help us right now
with the kind of situations we are confronting with products like the
Excursion. Even if the environmental protesters are successful in making
Ford withdraw the Excursion from the market, the problem fundamentally does
not go away because the potential buyers have not gone away. Another
company, sensing a commercial opportunity, may jump in and produce this
kind of product despite a similar firestorm of protests. If the product
launch is successful, Ford (and other vehicle manufacturers) may then be
compelled by the demands of its shareholders and the whip of the securities
market to follow suit. (As has occured with other products like mini-vans
and earlier SUV models).

If a product like the Excursion becomes commercially successful, it is an
outcome that is due primarily to the absence of any strong linkage of
personal values favoring environmental sustainability and stewardship to
product selection and usage. Protests against Ford (or any company) won't
change this. I agree that companies like Ford may help to amplify the
over-consumptive lifestyle but, as I mentioned above, they are capitalizing
on personal values that are already present in the culture they do business
in. Change the values and you change the products. It is that simple and
also that difficult.

For this reason, I believe that a principal focus of the GreenYes list
should be on substantive discussions of how to achieve this sea change in
social values. Corporate bashing or tips on how to avoid buying Christmas
cards don't really contribute to this goal. Frankly, I think these kind of
discussions have been absent on GreenYes because most of us are either
uncomfortable with or unequipped to handle critical discussion of values
beyond bland statements of "This is what I believe and I know I am right."
However, if we don't try we will be reduced to a list that primarily
bitches, moans and cries about products like the Excursion.


Roger M. Guttentag

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