Cars and green arguments

The next edition of the members’ magazine, , (due to be published next week) contains an article on communicating environmental issues.

In particular, “carbon” has become shorthand, like “green” as a simple way of getting over a message rather  being able to engage stakeholders in more considered discussion over the issues.

This is underpinned by the launch of a new Department for Transport “green car web site” focusing on CO2 emissions – www.dft.gov.uk/ActOnCO2

It is good to see more data provided to customers, but does it really help them make informed decisions when the actual issues are more complicated?  The site does include advice for motorists “to limit their carbon footprint in action, whatever vehicle they drive.”

Similarly, the SMMT’s Drive Green, Drive Safely initiative offers a guide to eco-safe driving from www.smmt.co.uk/sustainability.  Although websites and guides are helpful, do they actually motivate most drivers to change their behaviour? 

Eco-driving will be made part of the driving test for new drivers from next year.  The aim is to ensure skills that do not impact on the environment become part of learning to drive.  Perhaps a remedial test could be offered for more experienced drivers with a financial incentive – perhaps in association with one of the fuel companies.

Motivating “green” behaviour change though continues to be more complicated than carrot and stick.  Another story picks up on the impact of linking road tax to CO2.

According to www.cleangreencars.co.uk, a new high road tax band is required as the current highest level is set at 225g/km, which does not motivate those who may have a vehicle emitting up to 450g/km COto trade down. 

Indeed, the press release argues data shows luxury car buyers are buying more “higher polluting cars in the first half of 2007 than they did in the equivalent period of 2006”.  Unfortunately percentages are used to make its point rather than absolute numbers, so it is hard to evaluate the real significance of such claims.

This might seem a largely symbolic argument, since anyone looking to buy a car that costs over £40,000, with a poor emissions rating (and low fuel economy), is unlikely to be affected by the cost of higher road tax.

Where there would be an impact is on resale values where a prohibitive tax band starts to bite.  That means people like me as I own a 5 year old Mercedes SLK – and that’s where the arguments about the impact of buying new versus maintaining an older car make decisions even more complicated. 

In simple terms, such cars have a higher level of carbon emissions – but that doesn’t take into account the fact that I don’t drive it all the time, keep it properly serviced and am conscious of my driving behaviour (not least because I pay for my own fuel).

However, we live in a world where simple messages are necessary and so I will probably have to face being unable to afford a sportscar. 

Until the day that vehicle manufacturers design eco-frendly vehicles with the same level of visual and driving appeal.  I think that would be a good strategy for motivating those who love motoring – but would it satisfy the “deep green” community?

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.