Published on: Apr 17, 2012
Using labels to communicate environmental impact is not entirely new to the US motor industry. All American auto manufacturers are required by law to display fuel economy test results certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and many manufacturers now brand their cars with other fuel economy or emissions labels.
But an innovative marketing initiative by General Motors (GM), under which Chevrolet vehicles sold in the United States carry a new Ecologic window label describing various environmental impact qualities of each vehicle or the facility in which it or its components were assembled, is a first for the industry.
For Todd Cort, CEO of Two Tomorrows North America, commissioned by Chevrolet to carry out an independent audit of the initiative, the move is an exciting one which he believes could have wide-reaching ramifications for the US auto industry.
The impetus behind the Ecologic initiative was to present a view of environmental enablers applicable to each Chevrolet nameplate from manufacturing to driving to recycling.
And while he says that the many claims made by Chevrolet on each label are not necessarily unique – many of their competitors could make similar statements – Todd believes the consumer-facing marketing drive could well see other auto firms following suit, thereby driving genuine progress across the industry.
“What was new for Chevrolet was to augment centralised corporate sustainability reports with consumer-facing information,” he says. “The intent is to present trustworthy information at the point of sale.
“With that background, the Ecologic initiative is being driven by the Chevrolet brand. Chevy makes the full range of vehicle sizes from compact vehicles such as the Sonic to large SUV vehicles.”
As well as a first for the US auto industry, the audit broke new ground for us at Two Tomorrows. We are more used to assessing corporate sustainability reports than consumer-facing labels.
“We do a lot of non-financial auditing at Two Tomorrows such as assurance of CSR reports,” Todd explains. “So this was an interesting project for us because it is more common for us to audit corporate claims rather than marketing claims.”
The project was an independent third-party audit of the claims made by Chevrolet on the Ecologic label. Data to support the claims was gathered from governmental bodies and independent organisations, as well as from GM personnel, factory floors and assembly plants.
What Todd found was that Chevy’s priority has been on accuracy and consumer clarity.
For example, 85% of Chevy vehicles are recyclable, and GM has over 80 manufacturing facilities worldwide that are landfill free, with Chevrolet and Chevrolet components produced in many of these facilities.
Todd was full of praise for Chevrolet’s innovation and believes it could be the start of a sea change in the US auto industry.
And whereas a brand like Tesco in the UK has recently ditched its ecolabel scheme on the twin bases of cost and lack of take-up from competitors, the Ecologic labels display easy-to-understand information which Todd believes will make similar tactics attractive to other auto firms.
He says: “The difference – what does put Chevy at the forefront – is that they are putting these figures in front of the consumer. These consumer-facing labels will take off because it’s such a competitive market.
"And I’m hoping that the measure they’ve taken in having these claims audited will take off as well. This could spread to other consumer products too.
“In the past I have been frustrated by many labels touting environmental attributes because they are not clear. But the Chevy Ecologic label spells out the benefits clearly for the consumer.”
So Chevrolet has stolen a march on competitors by marketing the environmental attributes of vehicles in an innovative way and getting a reputable sustainability consultancy to independently assess them.