Re: [GRRN] SUV redux

Roger M. Guttentag (
Tue, 02 Mar 1999 10:19:18 -0500

At 08:51 AM 3/1/99 -0600, you wrote:

Ford Defends Massive New SUV

> Ford Defends Massive New SUV


> AP Auto Writer=3D

> DEARBORN, Mich. (AP) _ Ford Motor Co., defending itself=20

> 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 <underline>produce</underline> goods and services on an
environmentally sound basis and to insure that these goods or services,
once delivered, <underline>function</underline> 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 <underline>design premise</underline> 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.=20
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. =20

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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