What role do women play in getting all of us to drive smarter/greener

Back in February, I wrote a post about the long history between women and electric cars. I'm thinking now that my focus was too narrow; women and green cars in general deserve a closer look.

The Des Moines Register, for example, had an article earlier this year about a Meredith Corp. survey that showed that fourteen percent of women buy ethanol. The takeaway point was that ethanol producers can increase their sales by educating "women about ethanol's benefits, particularly its environmental impact," according to Isobel Osius, director of Meredith's consumer insights unit.

Meredith Corp.'s Osius said that about half of the women in the survey were unsure if ethanol was safe for their cars, a percentage that Tom Slunecka, executive director of the Ethanol Promotion and Information Council, said EPIC has also found. And here's a kicker: only ten percent of women "said they were dedicated to improving the environment."

"That was a surprise to me," Osius told the Register. "The language has got to be clear and concrete that ethanol use will be better for their children and grandchildren."

Ok, so that was a small selection of women in one study. I think the finding that just one in ten women is "dedicated" to helping the environment flies in the face of a lot of history of women who worked to protect the environment. The linked article, courtesy of the EPA, mentions Margaret Mead and Rachel Carson as just two very prominent examples. The article also says, "Women traditionally have been responsible for the care and welfare of families, which makes them especially sensitive to the importance of clean air and safe water. As mothers they know that their bodies provide the first environment for a child, and that they will be primarily responsible for the nourishment, safety and well-being of their children." And Meredith Corp. thinks only 10 percent of women care? Unlikely.

Let's take a moment to remind ourselves of some of the women making a difference in the green car movement today, by naming some of them. One of the country's biggest (non-celebrity) biodiesel advocates is Maria "Girl Mark" Alovert, who teaches homebrew classes across America, and has written a tremendously detailed guide to making your own biodiesel. Biodiesel seems to have a strong female force behind it, as we can see in the 2007 Women of Biodiesel calendar. Two friends of AutoblogGreen are plug-in hybrid advocates Chelsea Sexton and Sherry Boschert. The big automakers have women like Beth Lowery and Denise Gray (both at GM) in their green car departments. Celebrities like Darryl Hannah and Laurie David often make their pro-green voices heard, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other women politicians play an important role in this debate, too. This is just a small sample, if you want to add more, feel free to do so in the comments.

So, what about women driving greener today? Is Lynne Mason onto something with her Electric Cars Are For Girls website? What if you need something more than a NEV or can't afford a full-fledged EV (when they're available)? Julie Houston, writing at Bankrate, describes the treatment that she got when she went car shopping with a male co-worked (they were trying to see how the salesman treated the man vs. the woman. This is a key passage:

He then took us into his office and spouted technical information about the warranties, engine and gas mileage -- all the while looking right at John. When I said, "I really like it, I'm surprised how affordable it is." And he responded "Yeah, it's real neat isn't it?" Then he was back to specifics with John while I stewed in silence. Where's a laser beam when you really need one?

How will women be able to buy cars that are better for the environment if this is how they're treated? Admittedly, this is anecdotal, but doesn't it just sound like a pretty common occurrence to you. Houston has come up with a female car buyer's bill of rights to settle things down.

Cars.com has a list of ten tips for women car buyers. Number eight on the list is "Filling Up Can Add Up," and recommends that women keep a record of how many miles they drive each week before they step onto the car lot. Then, they should use that number to figure out how much the differences in the EPA miles per gallon estimates will affect the purse. Cars.com also tells women, "Don't discount a diesel-powered vehicle. Even though diesel fuel is more expensive, diesel-powered cars are far more fuel-efficient than their comparable gasoline counterparts" (this is good advice for anyone, I think).

Let me wrap up by pointing you to a woman's view of the Santa Monica Alt Car Expo. I attended the event last December and wrote a lot about it here on AutoblogGreen. Mary Hunt of In Women We Trust was also there, and came away suitably impressed. I think that her write up shows the potential profits green car makers and alternative fuel producers can make if they can capitalize on women's desire to help the environment, whether it's ten percent or lots, lots more.

[Source: In Women We Trust, Bankrate, Cars.com, Des Moines Register]

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