Step aside, you Earth-friendly makers of recycled grocery bags and organic coffee beans.
In the realm of consumer perceptions, automakers are now among the world's most environmentally respected brands.
Apparently overlooking the exhaust, carbon dioxide and landfill issues of cars and their factories, consumers now count five auto companies among the top seven "greenest" global brands, according to a new consumer attitude survey by the market consulting firm Interbrand.
Toyota, Ford and Honda are the world's top three greenest brands, in that order, according to the study.
Other high finishers were Nissan (5), Volkswagen (7), BMW (13) and Mercedes-Benz (17).
Interspersed among the auto companies are Panasonic, Johnson & Johnson, Dell Computer and Nestle.
The formula for success? According to Emma Hrustic, Interbrand's global director of brand intelligence, who helped produce the study, it's not just what you produce; it's how well you tell customers what you're doing.
"These perceptions are formed not just on the environmental value of their products, but also on the basis of how good a job the company does in communicating its commitment to sustainability," Hrustic says.
"Auto companies are doing a very god job of getting their message out. You can be part of the problem and still part of the solution."
That message includes consumer advertising about specific environmentally focused cars and technologies. In Toyota's case, consumers around the world are now aware of the hybrid Prius and its high fuel-efficiency, Hrustic points out. Ford rose 13 spots in the survey from last year, thanks to growing world awareness of its EcoBoost fuel-efficiency technology.
The Interbrand study also notes that Nissan shot into its Top 5 ranking this year, from 21st place last year, largely because of growing world awareness of its zero-emission Leaf electric vehicle.
But the green perception come from more than product advertising, Hrustic says. Automakers produce a spectrum of environmental messages, including corporate environmental progress reports, mission statements and broader sustainability programs, she says.
Interbrand's study collects consumer responses from major markets around the world, including Brazil, Germany, Russia and China. Hrustic said that automakers did not fare as well among Chinese consumers, primarily because those companies are not yet marketing green vehicles as heavily there.