Toyota’s Double-Sided Mistake

The car company was running ads about the Prius and their commitment to the environment while secretly lobbying in California against increased gas mileage standards.
  • Transcript


Question: Which companies need to focus more on corporate responsibility?

Jeffrey Hollender: There are, of course, the examples that you open up and see in the newspaper every day, like British Petroleum, and Goldman Sachs, and Toyota.  Those companies are a warning flag to every other business that’s not doing the right thing.  You now, those businesses happen to have gotten caught in the mess that they’ve created.  They are not alone in doing some terrible things.  But they’re unique in that they’ve gotten caught. 

If you go back in time and you think about a company like Toyota, several years ago, while they were running all these ads about the Prius, and how sustainable the Prius is and how much the cared about the planet and the environment—at the same time, secretly they were lobbying in the California against increased gas mileage standards.  So, you know, on the one hand they wanted to appear as this sustainable company while, you know, with the other hand, they’re actually fighting the changes that are required to make the world more sustainable for everyone else.   That is the kind of duality that I see at too many companies.  Too many companies who want to talk about... I mean, I remember four years ago, General Motors put up billboards all around New York and the country advertising the Volt car.  Now, the Volt car was not being made.  They had no idea if it was going to be made, they had no idea when it was going to be made, but that didn't stop them from advertising a car that didn't exist as a way to bolster their image as a responsible business. 

Things like that are destructive to your reputation.  And many companies don’t understand that this new world that we live in, the transparency that is created by the Internet raises the stakes for companies getting away with stuff that they used to be able to get away with.  Transparency will be forced upon you if you choose not to be transparent yourself, and you will get caught doing the wrong thing—whether you get caught by your own employees, whether you get caught by a blogger, whether you get caught by an NGO, or the government—you’ll get caught. And businesses need to be proactive in, a) disclosing the problems that they have, which they’re scared to do, and committing to the path that they’re going to take to make change.

Recorded on June 11, 2010
Interviewed by Jessica Liebman