Due to an accident our family needs to replace our car of 10 years. Normally we would make it last longer. The car needs to be big enough to transport the entire family. The only options meeting our requirements and near our price range either get poor gas mileage or are a more expensive Japanese made hybrid that gets 2x the mileage of the rest.

Due to the dolphin harvests, the Fukushima issue, and other reasons not universally relevant to the ethical aspect, I'd prefer to avoid a Japanese product. (Before anyone justifies the dolphin slaughter with a comparison to other CAFOs around the world the family is vegan so please don't bother.)

So essentially the questions is...

use almost half the gas over the life of the car, which in our case is usually beyond 10 years and indirectly support/ endorse inhumane practices and the worst nuclear disaster in history of planet...


Use almost 2x the gas over the life of the car and buy a product (at least assembled) somewhat locally?

What were talking about here is a difference of saving maybe 3000-5000 gallons of fuel depending on how long the car lasts. While that may get expensive over the next 10= years the financial cost will almost cancel itself out by the difference in vehicle price depending on how much gas goes up. Cost itself doesn't need to be considered for what I'm asking though. Just the burning of 3000-5000 gallons of fossil fuel vs behaviour I find conflicts with my ethics/ideology/sustainability principals.

Thanks for any thoughts or suggestions to formulas (official or your own) that might make this consideration easier.

  • Don't forget to weigh, against your ethical objections to Japan, any ethical objections that you may have against your own country! (which I'm guessing from the use of imperial units is the US). FWIW, there is talk of future Priuses being assembled in the US (treehugger.com/cars/…), but also talk that it may not happen (autonews.com/article/20130610/OEM01/306109991/…)
    – Flyto
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 12:48
  • I have no ethical objections to the people of Japan, I feel sorry for their situation. I have no ethical objections to the people of my own country. Which you guessed correctly. I may be in the market for a small hybrid in a few years but currently that's too small for the family.
    – hortstu
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 18:14
  • The only right ethics is sustainability. If your ethics is in conflict with sustainability, it is not ethical. Furthermore, it is buying cars and individual homes in the city what kills our planet. Fishing is not. Japaneese did bad thing building a power plant at the sea shore, where it never must be done and dispose the radioactive waters into the ocean. But, this is greedy capitalism and they needed energy to sustain the unsustainable car-oriented infrastrucutre, which kills our planet. W.Rees: the hybrids is a fraud, it is not green.
    – Val
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 20:38
  • @Val I agree with a lot of what you say but I'm not moving my family to a city for a variety of reasons. There are many aspects of our cities that are unsustainable or less sustainable than suburbs or rural areas. Yes cars are horrible but consuming meat pollutes more. So both are bad. We're vegan, we walk and use bicycles every chance we get, and I'm always looking for ways to reduce or eliminate the negative impact I may have on other beings. I got an error when I clicked on your link. It said try again later. I will. Thanks for the input.
    – hortstu
    Commented Feb 11, 2014 at 6:02
  • 1
    Have you considered clean diesel? If your budget can stretch to a Japanese hybrid (but I assume not an American hybrid like a Ford?), a VW clean diesel vehicle would probably fit. I read an article not too long ago which analyzed gas, hybrid and clean diesel vehicles, and came to the conclusion that the greenest option was a gently used clean diesel car. I wish I could find the article - it sounds like exactly what you are looking for. It took into consideration fuel usage, manufacturing practices and materials, etc.
    – michelle
    Commented Feb 12, 2014 at 16:50

1 Answer 1


There isn't a single mathematical formula, because the ethical dimension isn't easily quantifiable, and because people have different priorities.

However, for both the ethical and the sustainability dimensions, you can look at what the net impact of your choice would be. Now, each impact might be very small; it may help, to do the maths, to scale up to a million decisions, work out the impact, and then scale it back down again. For economic decisions in a functional market, this is a reasonable starting point: your decision is the marginal consumer, and all change happens at the margins.

The fuel consumption issue is pretty clear-cut: emissions from fuel consumption over the life of a car far outweigh the embodied emissions from the car's manufacture and disposal.

On the ethical issue of buying Japanese, well, it might be worth looking at how closely the car manufacturer is connected to the Japanese industries you object to. For example, if there's no problematic link between Tepco and Toyota (the only link that I know of is a wind-farm joint venture, which would seem to be ok), then there's no causal connection between buying a Toyota and encouraging the nuclear malpractices of Tepco. So zero marginal impact there, even for buying a million Toyota cars.

In the UK, we do have Ethical Consumer, an organisation whose consumer listings do try to identify the ethical and sustainability issues around particular purchase decisions: here's a quick summary of their rankings for cars. They tackle the two barriers I mentioned to start with, by ranking performance within each criterion and applying a linear scale; and by applying a customisable weighting between criteria. You can change the weightings of their individual criteria to reflect your own priorities. They've got 23 criteria, in five groups: environment, animals, people, politics, product sustainability. At time of writing, using the default weightings, the top-ranked car manufacturer is Citroen, followed by: Peugot, Kia, Hyundai, Suzuki.

  • 2
    Great answer. I'm not going to pick it yet because I'm hoping for more input. The boycott against Japanese products is, in my opinion, being done to encourage the Japanese people to speak out against the dolphin slaughter. Toyota may not be directly involved in either industry but the govt and the people gain from the exports. By putting economic pressure on them, the hope is, the people will push for change... and this boycott does have many other participants.
    – hortstu
    Commented Feb 10, 2014 at 18:29
  • I'm accepting the answer since no one else wants to chime in. I hope that doesn't deter anyone from throwing in their 2 cents.
    – hortstu
    Commented Feb 17, 2014 at 7:08

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