Op-Ed: If F1 announces its ‘greenwashing,’ enviro image will still take hits

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Sir Frank Williams, one of Formula 1’s most respected figures, a man who has dedicated his professional life to the sport of motor racing, has just done the sport a major hurt.

In comments at Autosport, Williams talks about the need for F1 to reintroduce KERS. It is the reasons why he says it that’s the problem:

“I’ve always believed that Formula 1 needs a totem, to avoid – which we have done so far – the attention of unco-operative members of the press who don’t follow Formula 1 very actively,” he said.

“I use the word totem, but to explain what I mean in very general terms – it’s quite the wrong word because KERS is a very meaningful thing for emission control and it does save power.

“It’s expensive, it’s difficult technically and it’s a big swallow, but sooner or later Formula 1’s going to get some aggro from one of these bodies that causes aggro.”

I hate to break this to Williams, but once he’s said, “Totem,” he can’t take it back. He has just handed to environmentalists a green-wrapped gift on a recyclable platter.

The best hope right now is no one will notice the quote. A quick Internet search so far only turns up the Autosport story, but typically if it was exclusive to them, they’d announce it as such. That suggests to me we could be seeing this elsewhere.

Now, I know there will be F1 fans who say, “But Sir Frank it right, KERS is a meaningful, ‘green’ technology.” And I’m not going to argue. I’m simply going to say: It doesn’t matter, because anyone “uncooperative” enough to raise this issue is going to pounce on Williams’ admission that F1 is searching for a way to “greenwash’ the public.

For those unfamiliar with the term, it is a play on “whitewashing,” only in this case it is a matter of spinning a product, technology or policy as “green” when it really is not. In other words, finding a “totem” to keep the environmentalists off your back. The Autosport headline suggests the same: “Williams: KERS key to F1’s green image.”

But rule No. 1 in “greenwashing”: You can’t admit that’s what you’re doing.

I’d suggest watching to see if there’s any fall out, especially as KERS is still part of the regulations and teams have been discussing whether to return it to the grid in 2011.

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