Hearing the term “bike-washing”, I bet the first thing that comes to mind is the image of a cyclist on a warm day with a bucket of suds in one hand, and a bike in the other. Well, while you’re not wrong, today the phrase #bikewashing has also taken on another meaning.
The phenomenon is the two-wheeled equivalent to greenwashing. It’s when companies attempt to make their products seem “bike-friendly” even if what they are advertising has absolutely nothing to do with bikes or bettering the bike community.
With cycling continuing to gain momentum as both a healthy and environmentally friendly alternative to driving, many companies have found ways to use this growing trend to their advantage. In the hopes of appealing to the cycling community, many companies are incorporating more bicycle related content into their marketing and advertising efforts than ever.
When a company has no real interest in bettering the bike community, but places the image of a bicycle on product labels, incorporates visuals of cyclists into a commercial, or even creates a social media post with a bicycle GIF all in an effort to seem “bike-friendly,” they ,unfortunately, are guilty of #bikewashing
Many argue that If these companies really wanted to appeal to the bike community, they should use their resources to invest in things such as better bike infrastructure and safer roads for cyclist as opposed to just advertising to them. So instead of placing a super fancy and artsy bike rack that does absolutely nothing in front of an office building, why not put that money to good use and bring in some bike racks that will actually work?
One way businesses could gain more support from the cycling community is by simply listening to them; finding ways they can assist in addressing their needs. This can help a company seem more authentic in their mission while also creating a way in which both parties can benefit.
For instance, a company that works to bring in reliable bike infrastructure for its customers and employees will come off as much more bike friendly than a company that only incorporates bike related content into its advertising. A prime example could be Tesla. In April of this year, Tesla upped the amount of bike parking they had at their headquarters and announced that they would be paying employees to bike to work. Both the company and its employees were able to benefit from this campaign in a number of ways. It helped to solve employee parking problems, helped in reducing the company’s carbon footprint, and all the earned media from the campaign presented a legitimate bike friendly image of the company to the public.
In no way is my goal with this article to bash every company that incorporates bike related elements into their advertising. I think it’s incredibly important to promote cycling as an alternative to driving, and more images of bikes in the media can do that. I just think that more can be done on behalf of businesses (especially big businesses) when it comes to actually helping the cycling community. My goal here is to just spread awareness. Hopefully, now you have the tools to spot #bikewashing when you see it.