Toyota's Donation to Yellowstone National Park: Corporate Greenwashing, or Good Partner?

Toyota presented the Yellowstone Park Foundation with a check for $800,000 and five vehicles, including three hybrids like this 2004 Prius, to benefit the park.

What do you say about Toyota giving an $800,000 check -- along with the keys to five rigs -- to the Yellowstone Park Foundation? Thank-you-very-much, or thanks, but no thanks?

Was this corporate green-washing at its worst, or a wonderful gift that will benefit Yellowstone National Park and children who know too little about the natural world?

Against the backdrop of the Bush administration's Centennial Initiative, the donation is pretty impressive. After all, the car maker obviously doesn't care if its dollars will be matched by the government. Cynics, though, might accuse Toyota of simply trying to grab some green ink.

And yet ... at a time when dollars for park programs are so scarce, shouldn't this sort of donation be welcomed and even encouraged? Or, does it simply provide evidence that Congress doesn't need to fully fund the parks, that corporate partners can be found -- at least for the jewels of the National Park System -- to fill in the gaps?

If you've followed the Yellowstone Park Foundation over the years, you know its been pretty adept at taking corporate dollars and inserting them into useful programs at Yellowstone that gain recognition not for who donated the money, but for what was accomplished.

Toyota's donations, made today in Yellowstone, were packaged as being given in support of "instilling a preservation ethic and promoting environmental stewardship among visitors." The monetary portion is intended to be used by the Yellowstone Park Foundation to bolster curriculum and improve accessibility of its educational programs to youth.

“Toyota and Yellowstone National Park both share a vision in developing future environmental stewards from the onset to encourage long-lasting conservation values,” said Dian Ogilvie, senior vice president of Toyota Motor North America. “We are proud to work with Yellowstone National Park and contribute to educational initiatives which will expand the park’s reach to even more communities and groups who have not yet experienced the beauty of Yellowstone.”

The "No Child Left Inside" initiative offers a range of educational programs that are intended to motivate students to take responsibility for their everyday actions to ensure a more sustainable society; encourage creative problem solving and critical-thinking skills through hands-on experimentation; and motivate students to educate others by sharing their preservation values.

Toyota's financial support goes towards programs such as "ParKids," which are summer educational workshops focused on environmental stewardship; Junior Ranger and Young Scientist programs that collectively reach more than 22,000 children annually; the Native American Cross-Cultural Exchange program, which is tailored to provide a residential camp experience for fostering relationships between Yellowstone Park and tribal youth; and the Yellowstone ESCAPE (Enhancing School Curricula with a Park Experience) program that incorporates both an Educational Day Use Program for school groups and three Teacher Training Workshops per year.

Present at today's press conference was Chris Lehnertz, the park's deputy superintendent, who said it is "essential" that today's youth come to appreciate the natural world "for the benefit of their personal development and well-being.”

“We focus on teaching students about Yellowstone’s natural and cultural resources to promote stewardship of open space and ecosystems worldwide, and are grateful for Toyota’s contribution in helping us develop future environmental leaders,” the deputy said.

Toyota also is contributing dollars and vehicles to help benefit Everglades National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Yosemite National Park and the National Park Foundation.

Comments

With the economy sinking as fast as it is with no bright light at the end of the tunnel: Take the money and run. That's my opinion. $800,000 can go a long way towards doing something fabulous.

I say take the money and run. This is really no different, at least in my mind, of when John Rockefeller made a contribution of $5 Million that helped fund the purchase of lands that eventually became Great Smoky Mountains N.P.

Several of the early eastern parks were made possible by philanthropic donations.

If Yellowstone was forced to put Toyota billboards next to Old Faithful, then yes, I definitely would have a problem with that arrangement. But I don't think we're losing anything by allowing corporations to make donations to public institutions.

Jeff
HikingintheSmokys.com

Don't just take the money & run. Take the money in the spirit it seems to be offered. After all, the Prius HAS been a major step in the right direction. If any car company doesn't deserve to be marginalized by claims of 'Greenmail", it's Toyota. How about Dodge, what have they done for the park lately? I also don't see how this let's Congress off the hook either. Their job is to fund the Parks as they are supposed to. Why would it be ok to have a political governance that can't fulfill it's own mandates? They should be embarassed if anything. So, please, take the money & be thankful for the nice show of Corporate conscience, something that seems to be sadly lacking in so many of our homegrown capitalist entities.

For a corporation to provide largess to a National Park isn't necessary green-washing, or "wonderful".

For example, the 5 rigs that Toyota provided weren't Ford or another U.S. maker, they were Toyota, right? Of course. That's called "product placement".

Corporations - automakers leading the pack - pay fancy money to have their product placed & used where it will be seen by large numbers of consumers known to have discretionary income. Park-visitors qualify as preferred advertising-targets. The money & cars provided to Yellowstone are consistent with other advertising-via-product-placement transactions.

Don't just take the money and run: Butter Toyota all up one side & down the other. Flout it in Ford's face. Stay alert for other product-placement opportunities, and when one presents itself, approach the relevant industry and put it to them.

Toyota isn't looking for something else out of Yellowstone. There is no compromise-gimmick that will make it's embarrassing appearance the morning after. Toyota already has what it came to Yellowstone for: It's most glamorous, green and fuel-efficient model (the Prius) prominently paraded in front of hordes of nice vacationers who are burning gasoline and driving cars in order to enjoy the environment in the premier American National Park.

Toyota will write the whole thing off as part of the perfectly-normal advertising budget that it is.

Take the money and run? No, take the money, send out a press release, thank Toyota in public and invite the media for a handover envent with photo op. Toyota is doing it right. The amount doesn't hurt them and their cars will be very visible in the most spectacular park.

The park gets the funds for his education program and the means to get from here to there.

So what's wrong? The wrong thing is, that Congress does not fund the parks according to their needs - so they have to lean on outside partners. Because that creates dependencies. Not this one sponsorship, but in the long run.

I see absolutely no problem with this. A eco-friendly vehicle in a National Park is fantastic ! Keep them coming.

If large signs or banners were involved, I would feel differently but that is not the case here. The NP symbol and the mural totally overshadow any small Toyota acknowledgement. The only sad thing I see about this is that an American corporation has not seen fit to meet the eco-friendly needs of America. Thank you Toyota !

Thanks Kurt for raising the issue. I'm a little surprised by the comments - how much they've changed in the last year when the privatization of parks was a hot topic and almost anything that smacked of privatization was met with suspicion.

It is a slippery slope to suggest that some Prius's - the car du jour - will open the floodgates toward privatization of parks. And, right now, I doubt people know that Coca-Cola has been donating money, that Canon has a protography project in the park (the live streaming webcam of Old Faithful being one example of their work), and I know I must be leaving out a half dozen other high profile corporate partners in Yellowstone. So, it seems relatively harmless.

However, the worry of privatization remains. As foundations have to depend more and more for grants and funding on proposals to the philanthropy wing of a corporation, philanthropy arms that have specific strings attached to accepting any proposal, then those who control the funding, ultimately control the product. Non-profit after non-profit already has to contend with this - we can see for instance how the Gates Foundation is to the philanthropy world what Microsoft is to the corporate world (they have specific expectations, they are the main funder of so many non-profits, and so they ultimately figure out how to control the agenda - I speak in this case from firsthand experience). The more that funding is dependent on the desires of the corporations who give the money, then the more we have room for worry here.

This gift is relatively meaningless as is; the question is in any gifts of this type whether it's considered the first step toward more. More sounds like a good thing, but it's not necessarily a good thing. We are probably a long way from "Toyota presents, 'Old Faithful,'" but we are increasingly seeing the welding of government power and corporate power in the parks, and that will make it all the harder to fight the abuses. When the bottom line comes from a large company instead of the public, then watch out. What happens with bioprospecting (an issue in Yellowstone that has been dormant the past year) agreements, for instance? Are we not to believe that this won't have some influence on policy?

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Toyota has been making fuel efficient cars that are as reliable as cars come for since the "green" movement was in its infant stages. American car companies could learn a lot from Toyota and it shows as sales of all American cars keep slipping and Toyotas and Hondas increase. I recently was in the market for a used car and was looking for an Accord or Camry. They were few and far between. The majority of what was for sale? American Gas Guzzlers.

Jim Macdonald,

You raise several important cautions about the current crop of 'creative' income-generators Parks are working out with corporations.

Conservatives like to say, "The price of freedom is eternal vigilance". That's really true about a lot of things in life ... and in the National Parks. Rarely can we make a single-shot investment to create a certain arrangement, and expect our achievement to remain as-is without further effort ... without monitoring, reassessing, and generally remaining vigilant.

Privatization of Parks is a worry many respond to. Funding can be arranged with the private corporate sector, though, without putting Parks under private control. We have to stay on our toes, sure - but that's something life demands of us anyway.

When a girl reaches puberty, it's a wonderful thing. Sure, it could lead to teenage pregnancy. One day, her new-found sexuality could lead her into a relationship with a man who abuses her. She could end up having to drag her children through the trauma of divorce ... and it all started with puberty ... the gift of sexuality.

Does that categorize puberty as something we shouldn't let get started? Does the chance that things could - and in some case will - go bad further down the road puberty set us upon, mean that we condemn it? Of course not.

We do have to keep an eye on relationships between Parks and corporations. In addition to the good that can come of it, there are risks. Occasionally there may be improprieties ... it's unrealistic to expect there wouldn't be.

Overall, though, sensibly-crafted agreements with corporations can be good thing. There is nothing in the deals with Toyota, Canon or Coca-Cola that locks us to a privatized outcome. There are risks in this general course, but they are manageable and we are alert to possible adverse outcomes. That's more than half the battle.

A year from now few if any people will know or remember that this was a gift from Toyota. Most people will view it as another government vehicle. When I was at Hagerman Fossil Beds earlier this year they had two Toyota Prius's in the parking lot of the visitor center. I have no idea if they were bought by the government or were a gift from Toyota. All I know is with the better fuel economy they are not spending as much of their budget on gas as they would have if they were using another type of vehicle.

I see no problem with the dontation. What concerns me, and as I have written about here before, is this is yet another example of the have and have-not park system that is developing. Yellowstone has the largest budget of any park (but not the most visitors). Plus, it takes in millions more from fees. There are many, many parks that are struggling with tight budgets that would love to have somone donate cars to them. But, the rich and famous get the attention. When it comes to national parks, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Riches in Yellowstone amount to plowing buffalo off the northern road in the winter, grooming the other roads for snowmobiles and snowcoaches (the rich rubbing the backs of the rich), and a budget to slaughter and haze bison, build overly large visitor's centers (now called education centers) - so if it were up to me, I would be glad to give the money and cars away. But, alas ...

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

A year from now few if any people will know or remember that this was a gift from Toyota. Most people will view it as another government vehicle
Toyota will write the whole thing off as part of the perfectly-normal advertising budget that it is.