Tuesday, July 14, 2009
ZIPCARS "2nd Annual Low Car Diet" - Real Green? Or Greenwashing?
I received this as a press release from Zipcar. I looked beyond the fact that it appeared to come from a slick NY PR firm because as anyone who reads my blog knows, I'm a HUGE supporter of anything that gets people to drive less.
So here was the PR pitch "Hi, this is Jason with Zipcar, the world's leading car-sharing service. I wanted to give you a heads up of a cool program that starts this Wednesday in Seattle as I thought YOU might find this interesting." (Wow, Jason, ME?) "30 Seattle residents will hand over their personal car keys and take part in a low-car lifestyle as part of Zipcar’s second annual Low-Car Diet. Below is the media alert with additional details but please let me know if you think this is something you would be interested in covering or attending."
It went on to say "In the midst of a challenging economy, rising gas prices and a nation-wide focus on cutting costs and adopting a smart lifestyle, the Low-Car Diet will help people to realize living without a car may be easier than they think."
Like all good PR 'stunts' this one promised an arresting visual - "30 Seattle residents, including baby boomers, married couples, parents, students, researchers, city planners, and medical workers literally dropping their keys into a lock box, one by one, as they pledge to ditch their car for a month as they pledge to live CAR-FREE for 30 days"
WOW!!!!! CAR-FREE???? Well, not quite.....
Perhaps 'PERSONAL Car Free' would be more accurate. You see Zipcar is in the business of providing cars to drive by the hour. Think of them as perhaps a "time-share' for cars. Or perhaps your own personal Taxi Cab but without the crazy driver.
Yes, I suppose you could argue that the very act of sharing a car saves resources since it takes resources to make a car. Of course it also eliminates jobs (you listening Detroit), but let's set aside that discussion for the moment.
The real question in MY mind is - does it(A) actually take cars off the road??(not out off the parking lot mind you, but actually off the road)? (B) does it alter the behavior of the people who drive them in an way that reduces their dependence on a single family (or single person) automobile?
The company website addresses point (A) by saying "90% of our members drove less than 5,500 miles per year AFTER joining Zipcar." That of course begs the question "how many miles a year they drove BEFORE joining Zipcar?" Ie: did they join BECAUSE they don't drive that much (and therefore didn't really need a car)?
As far as point(B), the PR pitch did offer me then chance for "Interviews with participants during the 30-day program". If they'll let me,I plan to take them up on THAT offer to see firsthand what changes to driving habits really happened.
This might be the greatest idea in the world or it might be another case of 'greenwashing". I'll hope to find out. Meantime, what do you think?