Last week, news broke about Volkswagen - one of the most iconic and trusted vehicle brands in the world, having falsified its emission data for diesel cars in the United States. And if that was not bad enough, this past weekend saw the scandal extend to include data used by the European (EU) regulators in their emission reports.
You could rightly ask 'what were they thinking..' as you begin to understand the enormity of the problem that VW has created for itself. Not only did the company participate in a fraudulent activity, but they did so in the environmental space. Add to this the latest report which suggests that executives at the car manufacturer knew about the problem some three years back - and did nothing, and then we begin to understand the greed that overtook common sense.
A few years back, a specialist in greenwashing and its effects on consumer behaviour said that consumers tend not to forget or forgive three basic 'faults'. The first is being caught sleeping with someone other than your spouse or partner. The second is being 'short changed' by a shop or supplier. And the third, is being lied to about the environmental benefits of a product! VW have made a cardinal sin in misleading and falsifying their emission data in an effort to boost sales, and unluckily, theyhave been caught-out in their lie. The consequences?
Well, perhaps the most important and justified consequence is the fact that this lie has wiped-out around 22% of the company's share value overnight; created financial losses worth billions of Dollars in fines and cost the CEO and a growing number of executives their jobs. But perhaps the most telling consequence has been the reputational and brand damage this has caused to what was one of the most trusted, iconic brands in the motor vehicle market. Gone are the warm and fuzzy adverts of families growing-up around the Beetle, Golf and Passat. Now we see that little 'green' monster called greenwashing and nothing the company does in the next ten years will change this perception.
Greenwashing is nothing less than greed, and anyone involved in this scandal needs to go to jail. After all - what they have done goes far deeper than simply show VW's 'feet of clay' in respect of it's marketing and sales ethics. It goes to the very heart of consumer behaviour and undermines our basic concept of trust.