Cornering Ford at SEJ2006

First night at the SEJ Conference, and things started off with a small bang as representatives from several major auto manufacturers – all men – took the stage for a panel discussion about alternative fuel vehicles, moderated by Jim Motavalli, Editor of E/The Environmental Magazine. Also speaking was one lone woman – representing the ethanol promotion board.

After they had all spoken, the audience was asked for questions. DeSmogBlog's Kevin stood up and asked his question of the Ford rep (paraphrased here). “If you say that you're so concerned about climate change, and acknowledge that it's happening, and are involved in things like Terrapass and alternative fuels, then why are you still funding think tank groups like the CEI, who have a position that climate change is not happening and is nothing to worry about?” The audience was as appreciative of his question as they had been of a couple of other pointed questions calling the auto companies on their apparent greenwashing.

Remarkably, Ford's senior representative up on stage didn't even attempt to answer the question, and instead turned it right over to one of his PR people, seated in the audience. “We completely divorced ourselves from that particular campaign,” she claimed, while members of the audience muttered in obvious disapproval and disbelief. She went on to say that while Ford does fund the Competitive Enterprise Institute – though not that campaign – they do acknowledge that climate change is a reality.

Kevin commented that that was the same answer he had received back when Ford had been revealed as a CEI donor during the time of the ridiculous ads. He said that while he understood that Ford uses CEI as a lobby group, he had offered to provide them with the names of other lobbyists who don't hold archaic and skeptical views on climate change, and who would be happy to work with Ford. At that point, he was told to sit down and let the next person ask their question.

Needless to say, the feeling in the room was strong that Ford had not responded sufficiently to what was a reasonable and relevant question. It wasn't the only time this evening, either. While I respect and appreciate the efforts that auto companies are making to move towards alternatives to a gas-dependent cars, I have to say that the SEJ conference kicked off with some first class examples of PR spin from our friends at Ford. Stay tuned for further coverage…


…I know I’m nitpicking here, and it’s probably all been said before… but this post is about greenwash…
I clicked on their website to see what it was all about, and I noticed TerraPass say of themselves: “Undoing your contribution to Global Warming is easier than you think…Be a part of the solution.”
Carbon offsetting is good because it needles people into giving money to good causes. And guilt is as good a reason as any to do so. But you are not undoing your contribution to Global Warming, and it is not a solution. This promotes a laughably simplistic understanding of the issues.
I know it’s a first step, it’s progress, and most importantly, it makes the connection between lifestyle, emissions, and the costs of said emissions, and that can be an important tool in preparing the ground for a real scheme that addresses the “true” cost of CO2.
I don’t know. Every time I read stuff like that I get this weird feeling of being simultaneously very close and very far from our destination…

As a co-founder of TerraPass, I just wanted to give a quick response to the previous comment: I agree wholeheartedly with just about everything the commenter said. But it’s not really fair to judge us by a headline on a landing page, which basically has to convey the concept of carbon offsetting in 50 words or less without scaring off the average internet user. Part of our mission at TerraPass is to ease concerned individuals who might not be deeply aware of all the nuances of the climate change issue into a deeper understanding of their own role in global warming. Bear in mind that most Americans still think that climate change has something to do with the hole in the ozone layer. So some simplification is necessary.

I encourage the commenter above to check out our blog, which takes a quite detailed and nuanced view of climate change issues:

Sorry, but a nuanced view would include a demand that Ford stop providing funding to the compettitive enterprise institute. Ford can have all the “terrapasses” it wants, but until it stops supporting groups that deny climate change, they’re words are nothing but greenwash! Seriously, even Exxon has suspended funding going to CEI – I’m sure Ford can find another lobby group in Washington to advocate for their issues that has not produced commercials claiming that Co2 is good for us.