The Men and Women Who Run Volkswagen Have Injured Us All

Written by  Steven Greenleaf

Tailpipe smoking

Climate Change is not a game

The men and women who run Volkswagen have injured us all and should be held accountable.  The company may have just laid claim to the title of “worst green-washer,” in history by virtue of using a “defeat device,” to cheat air pollution emissions testing. Volkswagen has admitted that four cylinder diesel 2009-2015 model year Volkswagen, Audi, and Skoda vehicles sold between 2009 used software which allowed the vehicles to pass US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other nations’ emissions testing even though they were producing up to 40 times the acceptable levels of NOx (nitric oxides), dangerous smog forming compounds.

The trick was that the cars would use all their emissions control equipment when on the testing dynamometers (car treadmills) to achieve clean emissions results, and then turn off the equipment while the cars were out on the road, giving them excellent fuel economy.  CEO of Volkswagen, Dr. Martin Winterkorn resigned and is now under criminal investigation, but it took a lot more than one person to pull of this deception.

More than eleven million cars, around 500,000 of them sold in the US, have been affected. Lawsuits at state, federal and international levels, criminal investigations, regulatory changes, industry wide scrutiny, and investor fallout will be roaring throughout the auto industry for years to come. Volkswagen being one of Germany’s largest employers, we must wonder how many jobs could be at stake here. Layoffs on assembly lines due to executive level misbehavior would truly reek of “1%,” privilege and inequity.


Bosch, who provided emissions software to Volkswagen complained about misuse of their systems, and Volkswagen engineers warned VW’s Board of Directors about the cheating at least as far back as 2011. EPA should have found this earlier. Instead, the cat was released from the corporate bag by John German, an engineer from the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a non-profit organization. They tested the vehicles on the road, re-tested and verified them because the results showed such improbably high emissions, and then sent the study to the EPA and VW (VW did not respond). VW did announce a recall in California to reinstall the software to deal with “higher than expected emissions,” but months later the California Air Resource Control Board tested vehicles and the problem was not solved, indicating that VW was still trying to hide the problem.

Well, VW is responding now – a response that will likely cost billions of dollars. The deeper layers of this story are the fact that EPA and other government agencies around the world did not discover this over the years, indicating the cozy relationships that many mega corporations have with the agencies tasked with regulating them. It is truly disturbing that a single engineer from a tiny non-profit had to do the work which should have been done by government technocrats.

Volkswagen has for years marketed itself as a corporation which takes sustainability seriously and intends to lead a revolution in transportation leading to a climate and pollution friendly future. They are doing excellent research and development on carbon fiber technology, fuel cells, and electric vehicles. This dirty scam they have been pulling has harmed every company which wants to move to a different way of doing business and has hurt the entire movement toward corporate sustainability, a field of endeavor which is near and dear to the heart of what Greenleaf Education Costa Rica is trying to promote.

Hopefully the fallout of this scandal will lead to better regulation and corporate behavior. If history is a guide, publicity spin and “statements of concern and commitment,” may rule the days and weeks ahead. I doubt it this time – too much money at stake and too many governments embarrassed.

Remember, Volkswagen does not make decisions. “Volkswagen,” is a corporation – a paper entity with no mind. Decisions within the Volkswagen Corporation are made by people, and they must be held accountable personally, not allowed to hide behind the corporate veil