RAN Supporters Shut Down GM Greenwashing Site!

By Robin Beck

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.