VW Feels the Force of Greenpeace — Time and Again

December 1, 2012 by  
Filed under 2012, Blog, Car, Carbon, Europe, Front Page, Industries, Slideshow

VW continues to feel the "Force" of Greenpeace as protests spread across Europe. Photo: Courtesy Greenpeace

VW continues to feel the “Force” of Greenpeace as protests spread across Europe. Photo: Courtesy Greenpeace

With Star Wars back in the news, thanks to the recent Disney purchase of Lucasfilm Ltd., it looks like the intergalactic legend will continue somewhere in a galaxy far, far away. Somewhat closer to home, the Star Wars iconography has been effectively used by environmental campaigners Greenpeace to launch their own assault on the lack of eco-credentials of many car manufacturers, with Volkswagen firmly in its sights.

What could be called the “Car Wars” saga began as a Superbowl ad in 2011. VW premiered a Star Wars themed commercial for the Passat packed with cute kids in the costumes of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, C3P0, et al. Greenpeace was, at the time, involved in campaigning against VW’s continued opposition to proposed changes to CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) regulations in the States and to European laws seeking to impose stricter limits on the C02 emissions of new vehicles. Greenpeace claims that VW and other car manufacturers are lobbying against worldwide initiatives to reduce emissions and, whilst boasting of their latest eco concept cars, are failing to bring truly accessible greener cars to market.

In response to the ad, Greenpeace sent Imperial Stormtroopers to Belgium, where they greeted representatives from the car industry arriving at a meeting of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. The headline-grabbing implication was that there was a dark agenda behind the eco credentials of the industry and that its financial muscle was being used to place a stranglehold on these initiatives. Greenpeace used the power of the viral video to call attention to their claims in a spoof-remake of the Passat commercial in which the Rebel Alliance is recast as environmental protestors and the VW headquarters is re-imagined as the Death Star.

All this was, of course, to the embarrassment of Volkswagen, who must be left wishing they had never approved that ad creative in the first place.

The launch of the new Golf across Europe has seen Greenpeace stepping up its ongoing campaign against VW in the past three months. In September, Greenpeace staged a faux launch of a Golf 7 “Jedi” edition that carries the spurious claims of having a hybrid diesel that does 315 miles per gallon and emits 75% less CO2 emissions than your average car. The invitation to sign up for more information puts those who register onto the Greenpeace mailing list, where more in-depth information is offered about the Greenpeace campaign against Volkswagen.

High profile protests in Paris, Berlin and Austria have targeted VW’s official launches with the unveiling of protest banners over VW showpiece stands and the continued use of the Star Wars iconography. At the Austrian launch of the new Golf, the VW logo was shrouded in fog, which Greenpeace spokesperson Herwig Shuster explained stood metaphorically for “the smoke screens of the VW group in its presentations … and the huge CO2 plume of the future Golf fleet.”

Backing its latest viral video, in which a journalist arriving at VW to present an award for its green achievements is shocked to find the deathly Darth Vader at the helm, the Greenpeace blog suggests that behind the green facade of car manufacturers like VW lies a blacker, more sinister agenda. It recently suggested, “for years VW has failed to put its money where its mouth is and commercially produce cars that are both cheap to run and emit far less CO2 than the rest of the market. Instead, VW has added these features to its ‘concept’ cars, producing a new one almost every year but never bringing it to market.”

This continues the argument that Greenpeace has been using since the Car Wars saga began. Greenpeace points out that for every “greener” vehicle sold by VW, the company sells many more vehicles that emit much more C02. In addition, Greenpeace claims that there appears to be a disproportionate price markup for VW’s “green” cars — far beyond the cost of the technology needed to produce them.

The Greenpeace UK blog highlighted in October how VW still seems to be oiling the wheels of the EU. The blog reported the news that a letter leaked to the German press has revealed that EU Energy Commissioner Günther Oettinger offered assurances to VW CEO Martin Winterkorn that he shouldn’t worry about binding CO2 limits for cars after 2020. The Greenpeace blog goes on to refer to its report that details exactly how VW could introduce fuel-efficient technology as standard in new vehicles but refuses to do so.

With the promise of new installments of Star Wars in the near future, and no let-up in the rhetoric or efforts of Greenpeace, it looks like the car industry will continue to feel the campaigning force of Greenpeace for some time yet.

Matthew Fidge

Guest Writer

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)

About the author

Matthew Fidge writes about the car industry’s responses to environmental challenges and monitors the latest eco car arrivals for West London Motor Group’s chain of London car dealerships.

Sneeze Guilt-Free with Greenpeace Tissue Guide

“Did you know? Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought a roll of recycled toilet paper — just once.” — Greenpeace Tissue Guide

Joe is sitting in our office, coughing and blowing into a tissue (Kleenex). He’s got a mound of them in the wastebasket on the floor next to him. One after another, he blows and performs the other functions that go with a bad upper respiratory illness. Without the tissues, we’d need a dresserful of handkerchiefs, hot water, and detergent — to say nothing of the tolerance required for washing cloths filled with virus-borne nasal fluids. I’m grateful (as he is) for the ready convenience of facial tissues.

Cold and flu season shouldn't destroy ancient trees.  Photo: J Wasson

Cold and flu season shouldn't destroy ancient trees. Photo: J Wasson

Last night, we used paper napkins at dinner (Green Forest). I pulled a single paper towel (Bounty) off the roll to clean up a spill from the floor. And, like the rest of the developed world privileged to have the conveniences of modern hygiene, we’ve also used our share of toilet tissue (Charmin) in the past 24 hours. What we haven’t done — till now — is to look carefully at the environmental costs of the particular tissues we’re using. If you could see my face, you’d know I’m embarrassed at the enormous impact the two of us are having on the ancient forests of this planet.

Whether you’re already a smart eco-consumer or as clueless as we have been on this step in the journey to leaving a tiny footprint, you will find the new Greenpeace Tissue Guide to be an invaluable shopping companion. Greenpeace has rated many of the most popular paper products on grocery store shelves. They evaluated four types of paper products based on three criteria:

  • 100% recycled content
  • ≥ 50% post-consumer recycled content
  • No toxic chlorine compounds used to bleach the paper

Rankings are based on how many of the criteria each product meets:

  • 3 of 3: Recommended
  • 2 of 3: Can do better
  • 0 or 1 of 3: To be avoided

Joe and I were chagrined to see (but probably shouldn’t have been surprised) that most of the products we use are among the big offenders, according to the Greenpeace list. The one exception is our napkins, which were manufactured by Green Forest. They’re made from 100% recycled material, 90% of which is post-consumer waste. The bleaching process is PCF (processed chlorine-free), which uses none of the toxic chemicals known to cause cancer. So we can feel okay about our paper napkins. Better yet, we could use cloth napkins on a daily basis, and just toss them in with the rest of the laundry.

Paper or cloth? It's not just about diapers. Photo: J Wasson

Cloth or paper? It's not just a question about diapers. Photo: J Wasson

My lone paper towel last night had 0% recycled content, 0% post-consumer content, and had been bleached using an elemental chlorine-free (ECF) process, which is better than the old chlorine method, but not, according to Greenpeace, as good as Totally Chlorine-Free (TCF) or Processed Chlorine-Free (PCF). Most of the time, I use small rags or dishcloths to clean up our kitchen messes. So I can either switch to using cloth for every spill, or buy paper towels that score high on the Greenpeace list. An easy choice for me.

[Please bear with me while I take a little side trip here, because in researching ECF on the web, I found a site that claims ECF is “the clear environmental and economic winner” (the Alliance for the Responsible Use of Chlorine Chemistry, whose participants include Dow Corning, the Chlorine Chemistry Division of the Chemistry Council, and Kimberly-Clark — the makers of Kleenex). In fact, there are so many sites claiming how wonderful ECF is that I’m hard-pressed to find info to the contrary. So, I have to rely temporarily (while I continue my research) on the adage, “Consider the source.” Hmmm… in matters of the environment, do I trust Greenpeace or Kimberly-Clark? Another easy choice.]

It turns out that Charmin toilet tissue is made from O% post-consumer content. In fact, it includes NO recycled content at all. And, to make it even worse, our chosen TP is bleached using ECF (chlorine compounds). Secretly, I cry, “But I like Charmin! It’s soft and absorbent. I don’t want to give it up.” Yet, that’s a sacrifice I’ve got to be willing to make. With every flush, my family now sends a small part of our virgin, ancient forests to the sewer. That’s not a fitting end for a grand and dignified old-growth tree.

And what about those boxes of tissues Joe’s been using up faster than a kid can eat a bag of M&Ms? Kleenex is a definite loser on the Greenpeace Tissue Guide scale: 0% recycled content; 0% post-consumer content; and ECF used for bleaching. We haven’t tried the Green Forest alternative or any of the other eco-friendly options. But now that we’ve been publicly shamed into doing so, we’ll be loading our shopping cart with better choices for the planet. Will they be soft on Joe’s oft-rubbed nose? Probably not as soft as what he’s used to. If he’s still on the frequent-nose-blower program by the time we run out of tissues, he may even opt for handkerchiefs rather than rough tissues. But the truth is, we don’t even know if the more eco-friendly tissues are rough, because we haven’t tried them. That’s about to change.

When we switch to more environmentally friendly tissues and a more sustainable lifestyle, we may not find them as soft as what we’ve gotten used to. But we’ll both feel better knowing we’re making wiser choices. It’s a question of honoring our values, which isn’t a question at all, come to think of it. You could call it a no-brainer. We were just slow to catch on. How about you?

Julia Wasson

Blue Planet Green Living (Home Page)