Human Flower Project
Auto Plants and Human Butterflies
In the greener-than-thou competition for car buyers, Toyota heaps on the blooms.
Humble cherry sage (salvia greggii) is part of a global car marketing scheme
Photo: Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center
Flowers are for suckers.
Truly. What we’ve tried to disclose over the past 5+ years is how people use flowers to wheedle, honor, evade, and rectify in cultures all over the world. And since in so many respects “culture” is dwindling to mean Varieties of Marketing Experience, we’re not surprised that flower customs increasingly amount to minor publicity stunts.
The latest is Toyota’s. Last week a story appeared in Drive.com (an Australian website for autophiles), that the car company had successfully introduced two plant species “specially developed for the grounds of Toyota’s Prius plant in Toyota City, Japan.” The new-new varieties were a salvia greggii (a.k.a. cherry sage) that could “better absorb nitrogen oxides” from the air and a gardenia that sweated enough water vapor to lower ambient temperature.
“When planted in large beds surrounding the Prius factory in Toyota City, the gardenias can make enough of a difference that the company can use less energy to run air conditioning to cool the factory,” wrote Green Car Advisor, one of many websites and newspapers (including the New York Times) that subsequently picked up the jolly generality-filled story.
Without calling Toyota’s two new plants a “petal-screen,” the Times did note: “Some people have said that the Prius loses most of its environmental cred when the hybrid’s manufacturing process is taken into account. Toyota acknowledges that Prius production is more carbon dioxide heavy than that of gas-engine cars.” Could it be that just like flowers in old-time funerals, these sages and gardenias were planted in the press to cover the stink of controversy?
One of Toyota’s solar-powered recharge flowers, Boston
Photo: Street Attack
We’ve been trying to track down when the not-so-green-as-you-claim challenge to the Prius first appeared and began spreading. Here’s a piece from 2007. But Toyota’s rivals may have leveled this criticism even earlier. We do know that back in July, Toyota began installing solarized “floral” towers in selected cities, where folks could recharge their various personal gizmos and access free wifi. This was an overt promotion of the 2010 Prius and its “theme”: “Harmony between Man, Nature, and Machine.”
Toyota’s new animated TV ads of “harmony” are heavily floral too – crops of intergalactic blooms sprout and shimmy in the breeze as the new model Prius toodles silently up the road.
The “theme” may be new, but Toyota actually developed the specially hybridized cherry sage and gardenia back in 2006 – just one product of Toyota Floratech. Yes, the Japanese company best known for its automobiles got into the GMO plant business ten years ago and sells “approximately four millions of mini potted flowers and ornamental plants per year.”
The company claimed then that ‘Kirsh pink’ (the sage) and ‘Wald’ (the genetically modified gardenia plant) “are efficient in reducing the urban heat island effect and absorbing atmospheric pollutants, such as nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide.” They were first recommended for city roof gardens, though now these same varieties are clearly being used to take the “heat” off of Prius’s controversial carbon-heavy manufacturing process.
Advertisement for the 2010 Prius
Image: via youtube
It seems to be working. One blogger writes: “The emissions and energy reduction efforts at the plant, Toyota insists, are not a response to critics, but part of a longstanding corporate policy to make every facility as green as possible. This is one time where a simple ‘whatever,’ really is an appropriate response. Whatever the reason - whether from altruism or image-building - what Toyota is doing is great and ought to be copied by all manufacturers.”
Since both Toyota’s cars and its Floratech division stand to gain from the latest human flower project, this strategy strikes us as particularly “energy-efficient” marketing: you sucker two sets of customers for the price of one.