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Changing Perceptions at Chevy: Feedback Please

Bard College MBA | Monday December 19th, 2011 | 11 Comments

The following is a guest post by our friends at Bard College’s MBA in Sustainability Program (a 3p sponsor) – for the business leaders of the future who recognize the importance of all business moving towards true sustainability—economic, environmental, and social.

Eban Goodstein, Director, Bard MBA in Sustainability

I am part of a team of volunteer sustainability advisors working with Chevrolet, and we need your help. Chevy has set aside $40 million from their marketing budget to reduce CO2, roughly, equivalent to the emissions from a year’s worth of vehicle sales: up to 8 million tons.

Why?  GM has sold off their Hummer Division, and under new management, is interested to see what a sustainability-centered strategy would mean for a car company.   Chevy has a respectable history in terms of sustainability investments in manufacturing, and has recently produced two new, high mileage cars—the Cruz Eco and the Sonic.  And now with the Volt, the company can claim serious leadership in driving towards an ultimately sustainable vehicle future: electric cars powered by clean energy.

A key part of any sustainability strategy is engaging a community of leading edge consumers, Prius buyers if you will. Thus Chevy’s unusual marketing effort organized around clean energy and forestry investments in communities across America. These include innovative energy efficiency projects for low income housing in Maine, wind farms in South Dakota, and tree-planting projects in Colorado.

Here’s where you come in. We need your feedback on how this is all affecting you, the target demographic.  One element of Chevy’s strategy has been to produce a series of videos telling these different community stories. The videos are all introduced by futurist and physicist Dr. Michio Kaku talking about climate change and the need for carbon reduction.  My favorite is the Maine energy efficiency video, in part because one of my Masters students, Lucy van Hook, helped develop the innovative offset methodology used there.

Our team would be grateful if you would watch a couple of these videos, and tell us, frankly, what you think. Could these stories make a difference in perceptions of Chevrolet? Embracing sustainability is a tall order for a company whose products currently burn a lot of carbon, but a $40 million experiment with marketing dollars is not small change and GM has already reduced its own manufacturing GHG emissions by 60% over the last several decades. What could Chevy do better to get the word out about this pioneering effort, and get an early win from this sustainability investment?

Look forward to your comments.

The Bard MBA in Sustainability is a MBA program for the business leaders of the future who recognize the importance of all business moving towards true sustainability—economic, environmental, and social. Learn more at www.bard.edu/mba.

With thanks to igloowhite and nrmadriversseat for the photos.


▼▼▼      11 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Nicole

    With all the conversations we’ve had about sustainability being stuck in the marketing/PR department, this seems more of the same. I’d rather see GM do something revolutionary, like use the money to implement solar to power their own facilities and at the same time be supporting clean energy entrepreneurs in the US who could use the jobs and money to grow their businesses. Or incentivize people to by the Chevy Volt as their next car – something as immediate as major push in 2012.

    Where’s the creativity? If GM really cared about reducing carbon emissions, or making a statement about climate change, they should start with their own product. Why aren’t they making commercials talking about why they as a company stand behind EV’s and that they encourage the American public to join them. They have the ear of middle America.

    The approach in this article doesn’t link back to their own impact and what they could as a company be doing to make a real difference.

    Sorry, but this other stuff is just more of the same bunk. Please don’t unfriend me 3P for speaking the truth. Love you tribe.

    • Nick Aster

      Nicole – thanks for speaking your mind! That’s what this is all about!

  • Dave Shires

    I’m with Nicole. These are great videos that certainly have some value. I’m also glad to see that GM is putting some money and support behind some worthy projects.

    But none of this has anything to do directly with GM. Where’s the investment in the Volt? Or other electric cars? Electric car infrastructure? Non-car infrastructure?

    I want to see a video of GM employees biking to work and driving only on the weekends… now that would impress me!

  • Terrance Hou

    One thing that might improve the experiment would be to tie this to Chevy’s operations more directly – or to the life cycle of a car.

    For example, have they calculated the average CO2 output of any vehicle from manufacture to end of life? If so, then shouldn’t they seek to match their offset projects to that number?

    Would also be nice to see this go beyond CO2. There are many, many problems at work!

  • Scott

    All great comments. I think the way to look at this is that it’s just a starting point. There are a lot of things you can do to make your company more sustainable – good and bad – but you have to start somewhere AND you cannot do everything at once.

    In this vein, I invite readers to check out a this presentation that GM engineers gave about the technical feasibility regarding the roll-out of the Volt – EV infrastructure, etc. It’s an interesting window into their planning process going foward with regard to a long-term focus on sustainability.

    http://www.gomega.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=ErGroCB04NQ%3D&tabid=802

    Let me know what you all thing.

  • http://www.bard.edu/mba Eban Goodstein

    Clear theme emerging: sustainability initiatives are most effective when keyed directly to a company’s product. Thanks for the feedback.

  • Nick Aster

    My two cents – I think Chevy/GM is on the right track, and given their astonishing cultural reach I cut them a little slack in terms of how directly this is tied to the company. A huge percentage of their customers are not the hard core green demographic and may indeed be pretty new to many of the project types, and perhaps even to carbon offsetting all together, so they may be treading lightly for a reason.

    But the comments above strike soundly – a company that really wants to embrace sustainability (which is more than just CO2 impact) needs to find a way to bring it into the core competencies of what the company does. Making the actual product more sustainable would indeed be a more direct way to walk the walk.

  • Chaplain Bob Walker

    I would love to see more green businesses, but I want to see them also be committed to quality. What good is a green car that breaks down and must be replaced every two to three years? How is that green? GM burned me on my first new car as it was a lemon. So forgive my being sceptical. GM did not care about my problems with the car and I finally had to trade it.

  • Nicole

    I would go a step beyond viewing the points that some of us made as tieing back to the company’s core business. Although that is a core concept that I teach my students, and I estimate is a core value of this community, I see a much larger opportunity.

    GM has the ability to influence market shift on a large scale. They are seen as the mainstream, i.e. the norm. If they were to adopt solar on a grand scale, or heavily promote and educate the American public about EV’s, they would help drive that market shift. Everyone is waiting for “someone” to step up to the plate on this, and all eyes are on government. The reality is that companies need to create demand for their products. Fortunately for companies purporting to want to be green businesses – education and advocacy translates to sales.

    It’s a win/win. And Chevy carries a heavy bat. They should be swinging it in the name of innovation, addressing climate change and transforming the marketplace. I want to see them step outside their comfort zone and use their power and influence. They’ve already made the product, now bring it to market and bring it to fruition, and help us get this market shift moving! It’s beyond time.

  • Nicole Shore

    BTW – That’s Nicole as in Nicole Shore. : )

  • Chevrolet main headquarters

    Why can’t Chevy build the C hevy Corado “4” door with a ” LONG BED ‘!!! I am a hard core Chevy man!!! i purchsed a 2012 colardo 4 door and I almost broke away frome Chevy to a ‘TOYOTA’ because they have the 4 door with the ‘LONG BED ‘ ! ! ! I have driven Chevys for 45 years and it took alot of efert not to go to Toyota ! ! !