Tiptoe through the tulips with Toyota?
The automaker is increasing the “green” profile of its Prius operations (which, as you read here last week, is slated for possible spinoff into a sub-branded "family of vehicles") through environmentally conscious production plants, setting in place a slew of carbon offsets in an effort to disquiet critics over the Prius’ allegedly limited fuel standards.
Toyota has even created two flower species, derived from the cherry sage plant and the gardenia, planted outside the company’s Toyota City, Japan plant in an effort to absorb harmful gases, create water vapor, reduce surface temperature and lower the plant's energy usage, offsetting its overall CO2 emissions.
As Australian auto site Drive reports, the Toyota plant also features a specially-developed grass that requires maintenance once a year.
Numerous other green capital improvements have been made to the physical plant. Solar panels and special paint that absorbs harmful gases have been installed at Toyota's Tsutsumi plant, solar tubes have replaced some electric light bulbs, and sensors monitor light usage. The corporate dress code has been loosened, to accommodate employees working in a slightly warmer office temperature.
Toyota has come under fire from critics and competitors who lambast their green credentials. Detractors believe Toyota’s manufacturing process cancels out the low emissions of the Prius, and that traditional automobiles have lower emissions. The company denies these plant upgrades are related to the criticism.
This summer, Toyota began advertising in public spots like New York’s Flatiron Plaza, using large flowers offering free public wi-fi and seating. With the addition of the Toyota brand breed of flower, the company seems to hope to create an association between the natural world and the Prius model.
As occasional brandchannel contributor Ingrid Fetell writes on her Aesthetics of Joy site, “joywashing” refers to the use of positive imagery, mantras and images in branding and advertising. Toyota’s use of the flower and their creation of two new breeds is an interesting implementation of the trend: loosely related to the brand, the flowers remind consumers of what they are conserving by driving a Prius.
As consumers' environmental concerns continue to grow, automakers must adapt their R&D, production and marketing. Toyota might consider extending these retrofits and carbon offsets beyond the Prius brand: As it considers expanding Prius into a sub-brand, there are dangers to the rest of its line. Offering two brands, one regular and the other “environmental,” diminishes both brands, leading consumers to believe models like Corolla and Camry are not fuel-efficient, and opening up the "green" line to attack from competitors.