American Marketer


Lexus spurs students to be environmental stewards

September 2, 2014

Winners of the 2014 Lexus Eco Challenge Winning team from the 2014 Lexus Eco Challenge


Toyota Corp.-owned Lexus is renewing its Eco Challenge to help young innovators get the support and resources they need through Dec. 8.

The Lexus Eco Challenge is designed for teenagers in grades 6-12 and offers scholarships and grants to incentivize entries. Pioneering students are invited to tackle two broad challenges, with the ultimate goal of envisioning solutions to environmental dilemmas.

"I don't think the Eco Challenge fits Lexus' brand identity," said Al Ries, founder and chairman of Ries & Ries, a Roswell, GA-based marketing strategy consultancy. "Lexus makes relatively large, high-powered luxury vehicles.

"They do a lot more damage to the environment than smaller, less powerful vehicles like the Toyota Prius hybrid," he said.

"Since Toyota owns Lexus, you might think the company would have its Prius model sponsor the Eco Challenge. That would fit perfectly with the brand identity of Prius."

Mr. Ries is not affiliated with Lexus, but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

Lexus did not respond by press deadline.

Saving the planet

The Lexus Eco Challenge has provided $4.5 million to 26,000 students since it first began eight years ago. Now, the brand, along with Scholastic, is committing another $500,000 to the next round of creative minds, further demonstrating its commitment to innovation.

The challenges that students are asked to address concern land, water, air and climate. Submissions can be for "Land & Water" or "Air & Climate," or teams can enter both contests.

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Winning team from last year's challenge

In the past, the contests ran at separate times and for shorter periods.

Deliberately broad, the challenges are meant to mesh with whatever students are currently learning. Teachers can even download material from Scholastic and Lexus that can be tailored into lesson plans and that meet Common Core standards.

Those interested in competing are asked to form teams of five to 10 with one or two advisors. Submissions should include a clearly defined environmental issue, a developed action plan for addressing the issue and a report on the results of the plan's implementation.

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Winning team from last year's challenge

Each of the challenges will have 16 winners who will be awarded with $10,000 in scholarships and grants to be divided up. Winning action plans will also be featured on a dedicated Web page.

In January 2015, the winnings teams will compete in a Final Challenge, in which teams must scale their action plans beyond their local communities.

Eight first-place winners and two grand-prize-winning teams will then be determined. The first-place teams will receive $15,000 in additional grants and scholarships and the two ultimate winners will receive $30,000.

Necessary support

Lexus continually supports innovators.

The brand is also inviting designers to partake in its third annual Lexus Design Awards through Nov. 3.

This year’s theme is “Senses,” a deliberately broad subject that Lexus expects to draw a wide array of submissions. Last year, the brand received more than 1,100 submissions from 72 countries (see story).

Although the brand shows a commitment to innovators, there may be a disconnect between its outside endeavors and its product line.

"High school students might be motivated to participate in the Eco Challenge," Mr. Ries said. "But even if they get deeply involved in the Challenge, they are highly unlikely to want to persuade their parents to buy a Lexus.

"They might actually try to convince their parents not to buy a Lexus because the car is not good for the environment," he said.

Final Take
Joe McCarthy, staff writer on Luxury Daily, New York