Automotive environment messages lack global consistency and real responsibility

Automotive public relations practitioners in Europe, and particularly the UK, have been engaged in communicating the improving environmental credentials of vehicles for several years now.  One particular success has been in terms of public understanding of CO2 emissions, not least in terms of its relation to vehicle tax.  The sustainability report records other developments.

But low carbon efforts here seem to run counter to the US where automakers are fighting fuel efficiency standards.

Indeed, slates the management of US car companies as an example of a lack of personal and corporate responsibility.  He notes short term thinking among those who cite the market and business as justification for their actions. 

I believe that every criminal, no matter how heinous the crime, deserves an attorney. I don’t believe that every product and every organization and every politician deserves world-class marketing or PR.

Freedom of choice?  The business of business is business?  Just doing your job repeating corporate messages?  If you seek to influence and persuade others, you have a personal responsibility regarding the outcome.

The big shame in the auto-industry is that the focus on maintaining a status quo is short sighted and ultimately self-defeating.  Sure you might maintain some jobs and sales now, but to secure a longer term profitable market, companies need to be ahead of trends – it is futile to try to stop the future.

What is frustrating in terms of the automotive industry, is that many people inside it want to be responsible, want to act now, want to secure the long-term success that addressing environmental issues pro-actively will deliver.

As well as communicating “green” messages to consumers, automotive PR practitioners must lobby harder upwards internally – challenging the management to walk the talk, refusing to lobby rather than embrace the future. 

The environment is a global issue and it is madness to communicate messages of positive environmental developments in one part of the planet, whilst lobbying against standards elsewhere.  In a world of fast, open communications, lack of consistency is stupid and damaging. 

Global, consistent, personal and corporate responsibility is necessary if this industry is to change its reputation on the basis of real investment in new technologies and alternative fuels.

Yes, there is short-term money to be had in the US from continuing to sell gas-hungry trucks and sports utility vehicles – but the responsible position and longer term trend has to be for smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles.  Without them, the future will be greater criticism with others generating effective solutions?

Public relations practitioners need to reflect the personal responsibility that Seth Godin advocates.  This means fighting against practices which see the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, set up a website ( and a free phone number to encourage US drivers to lobby Congress against changing fuel efficiency standards.

Instead PR should be championing the demands of consumers and other stakeholders for better, more environmentally-sustainable personal mobility.  As Seth Godin asserts:

My point is that you have no right to market things you know are harmful or that lead to bad outcomes, regardless of how much you need that job…

If you get asked to market something, you’re responsible. You’re responsible for the impacts, the costs, the side effects and the damage.

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Heather Yaxley PhD

Dr. Heather Yaxley is passionate about sustainable careers, reflective practice and professional development. I am a rhizomatic educator, practitioner, consultant, academic and scholar. As a qualified academic, I teach the CIPR professional qualifications with PR Academy and have experience teaching at various Universities. I run the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA) and my own strategic consultancy. I was awarded by PhD researching Career Strategies in Public Relations by Bournemouth University in 2017. I'm a published author, with books, chapters and academic papers to my name.