SUSTAINABILITY MARKETING CHALLENGE THINK BLUE AND GREEN WARS
Think Blue is an integrated environmental approach by Volkswagen, the largest automotive maker in Europe, and one of the leading automobile manufacturers worldwide with 7.2 million cars sold in 2010.48 With Think Blue, Volkswagen aims to develop environmental products and solutions, whilst also enhancing environmental behaviours amongst its customers. Two key elements of the initiative are BlueMotion Technologies and ‘Think Blue. Factory’. BlueMotion Technologies involves innovative environmental technologies that increase the energy efficiency of conventional internal combustion engines and foster new hybrid and electric vehicles. The average CO2 emissions of the new Volkswagen fleet are 144 g/km in 2010, which is a reduction of 15% as compared to 2005. Twenty Volkswagen model variants emit less than 100 g/km of CO2. At the first Qatar Motor Show in 2011 Volkswagen unveiled the XL1, a plug-in hybrid, which is supposed to run on less than one litre per 100 kilometres (= 24 g/km). The company announced it was producing a limited number of this lightweight, aerodynamic two-seater in 2013. In the same year Volkswagen will also introduce other affordable electric car models, including the quirkily named ‘Up! blue-e-motion’ and ‘Golf blue-e-motion’. BlueMotion Technologies go hand in hand with ‘Think Blue. Factory’, that is environmentally sound production processes. Worldwide Volkswagen has 62 production facilities, of which 57 are certified to international environmental standards such as ISO 14000 and EMAS (with four more plants in the process of certification). To reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40% by 2020 as compared to 2010 Volkswagen’s strategy involves further increasing resource and energy efficiency in production, whilst also shifting from nonrenewable to renewable energy sources like wind, hydro and solar. In Germany Volkswagen announced its intention to invest more than €1 billion ($1.3 billion) in renewable energies, including off-shore wind farms with an output of 4 × 40 megawatts (MW). In Brazil the company will construct another hydroelectric power plant with an output of 25 MW. In addition to that, Volkswagen will expand the use of rooftop photovoltaic systems at production plants worldwide. These investments will reduce GHG emissions, diversify the generation structure and contribute to the transition of national energy supply systems towards renewables. Environmental technologies and cleaner production are only part of Think Blue. What makes the integrated concept special is the emphasis on promoting environmentally conscious behaviour, particularly regarding driving. Volkswagen wants to encourage its customers to drive in a safe, fuel-efficient and responsible manner. Beyond providing fuel-saving tips on websites and in information brochures, Volkswagen aims to involve customers and motivate them to actively participate. Volkswagen Germany and Austria, for example, carried out the Think Blue World Championship 2011 with more than 4000 participants. The winners had to master a number of sustainability challenges, including petrol-saving driving with a Golf BlueMotion (four people and a fully loaded boot), the modeling of aerodynamic cars, answering quizzes and burning energy on a rowing machine. Some of these tasks were reprised in a free downloadable iPhone or iPad game App called the Think Blue Challenge which used an ‘edutainment’ approach to promoting more sustainable driving. Volkswagen Australia organized the 1-LitreChallenge, asking participants to go as far as possible with one litre of fuel in the tank. In addition to that Volkswagen Australia set up a photo booth, which took photos of participants if they pedalled hard enough. Volkswagen USA cooperates with the Museum of Modern Art to collect, present and discuss videos on future topics around environmental protection, resource scarcity and social equity. The environmental initiatives undertaken by Volkswagen have been recognized by a number of institutions. For years, Volkswagen has been represented in important international indexes such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index and the FTSE4Good. Additionally, the company won numerous awards for its environmental and social performance (e.g. German Sustainability Award 2008). Greenpeace, however, is rather less impressed by Volkswagen. In the summer of 2011 the activist NGO launched a successful social media campaign to turn Volkswagen away ‘from the dark side’.49 The first episode features the main Star Wars characters and has a strong resemblance to the popular, award-winning VW commercial ‘The Force’. In the campaign Greenpeace confronts Volkswagen over three key issues:• Slow emissions progress: Volkswagen is accused of dragging its feet in reducing the fuel consumption of its vehicle fleet. While Volkswagen has developed the technologies to produce highly fuel-efficient cars, it has not made them widely available (yet). According to Greenpeace just 6% of the global sales in 2010 involved its most energy efficient models. • Greenwashing the fleet: The Company has a history of diverting attention from its overall poor environmental performance by developing super-efficient car prototypes, which are presented at high-profile motor shows (including the XL1) but never make it to mass production. • Lobbying against progress: Despite its green rhetoric, Volkswagen is opposing two climate policies in Europe, which aim at driving forward innovation and cleaner technology within the car sector. The powerful European Car Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) has been lobbying strongly against stricter fuel-efficiency standards in Europe. As the largest European automaker, Volkswagen is an influential member of the association. Since the launch of the social media campaign, more than 500 000 ‘Jedis’ have ‘joined the rebellion’ organized by Greenpeace. Once registered, new Jedis receive their training. They get their own vw darkside-website to invite their friends onto and use to interact with others. The higher the number of followers and interactions accumulated, the more points the novice Jedis earn. Those accumulating enough points to reach the level of Master Jedi receive a special T-shirt from Greenpeace. The ‘Rebel Manifesto’ and its demands are widely discussed on the Internet – even among Volkswagen customers. As part of the interactive social media campaign Greenpeace also launched a film competition See Volkswagen Differently, which received 77 entries from all over the world and numerous amazing videos, highlighting the contradictory messages of Volkswagen in sustainability communications.50 Whether the Force is ultimately with Volkswagen’s critics or with those seeking to improve from within the sustainability credentials of the company and the driving of its customers remains to be seen. As Master Yoda would say, ‘Complex and challenging sustainability marketing is!’
Think blue and green wars (eText Belz & Peattie 2012 pp 293-295)
- Compare the sustainability of Volkswagen’s car technology to hybrid and electric cars e.g., Telsa Roadster, Toyota Prius.
- What are the key criticisms Volkswagen has received from environmental groups? How has and how should Volkswagen respond to those criticisms?
- In addition to advances in engine technology and fuel usage, what other types of sustainability strategies could be implemented by car manufacturers? Consider the entire lifecycle of a car when you make your suggestions and give specific examples.
- Private cars are a prime candidate in the sustainable consumption debate. What are some initiatives countries/cities have implemented to encourage people to use public transport, walk or ride their bikes instead of relying on their car?
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