While it's true that some car companies engage in greenwashing for their hybrid models, it's also true that most hybrids tend to be better for the environment than their gas-only competitors. Take a large hybrid like the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid. It gets five more miles per gallon in the city than the regular Tahoe, and three more miles per gallon on the highway. It's not a great improvement, especially when you consider that the gas-only Honda Fit gets 13 more miles per gallon in the city and 15 more on the highway (and sits almost as many people as the standard Tahoe). Still, if a buyer really needs the space and capabilities of the Tahoe, buying the hybrid can save 4,033 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per year, and every little bit helps [source: HybridCars].
The other side of greenwashing is that people are getting wise to it. When consumers realize what companies are up to, they can force businesses to change their practices. That's what is happening with hybrid batteries. While the batteries in most hybrids are toxic and difficult to dispose of, they're engineered to last as long as the car does. Some companies like Toyota even offer a bounty for the batteries. Toyota pays $200 for each hybrid battery that's returned, and the company makes sure it's disposed of properly. At the same time, automakers are racing to create cleaner, longer lasting batteries that won't be dangerous to dispose of.
So, yes: Some hybrids are just greenwashed. But that doesn't mean that hybrids aren't a viable part of the effort to clean the environment. If you're looking for a hybrid and want to avoid greenwashing, do the research. Compare the car's emissions to other hybrids and gas-only cars. Talk to people who own the hybrid you're considering to see if they get the kind of gas mileage the car company claims the hybrid can get. Finally, find out what kind of batteries are in the hybrid, and how they're disposed of.
To learn more about greenwashing and hybrids, look over the links on the next page.