What’s Behind Toyota’s Surprisingly Wide Environmental Giving?

We mostly see a lot of education giving from car companies, and while Toyota does its share, it also gives more to the environment than you might expect—including a recent national park donation. What gives? 

Let’s just get it out there: Cars are terrible for the environment. The transportation sector overall is responsible for 26 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions, with cars and trucks alone contributing nearly one-fifth of national emissions. 

While we really need to get individuals driving less in order to mitigate climate change, cleaner cars do help. Toyota has been a leader in this area, which may explain why it’s one of the few major automakers that gives substantially to environmental work. 

Outside of their company sustainability and cleaner cars measures, which we recently reported on, some of the grants within their green giving are pretty surprising. 

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Take, for example, the most recent $1 million award to Yellowstone Park Foundation. The donation will establish a Yellowstone Youth Campus that will house educational programming, but also seek Living Building Challenge Certification, the most advanced rating for green building, requiring structures to help restore the natural environment.

Toyota’s backed other Yellowstone projects in the past, too, including introducing a renewable energy system to a ranger station, and backing the construction of a new Old Faithful visitors center. Toyota also recently entered a partnership with WWF to support the Living Asian Forest Project, including $1 million in funding annually for the next five years. 

Other efforts include a Young Investigator Fellowship program that supports research in green energy technology. Even its luxury subsidiary Lexus has gotten in on the action. And we’ve written before about the company’s philanthropic partnership with the Audubon Society, and the way it ties STEM education into environmentalism.  


Car companies, along with all kinds of various community giving you see in most corporate CSR programs, often have a thing for STEM education, for reasons we’ve explored at length. But why is a car company doing things like building a super-green building in a national park? 

First off, there is still some overlap here with Toyota’s STEM interests, considering the educational component. But really, we’re talking about the automaker’s branding as one of, if not the most environmentally friendly of the major car companies.  

It doesn’t have a perfect record, as it did have to pay around $34 million following a 2003 settlement with the EPA, after the agency charged that the company sold cars in the 1990s with flawed emissions-control systems. 

But throughout the 2000s and up to today, Toyota has been an environmental darling—for a car company, that is. There’s the ever-present Prius that made hybrid cars go mainstream. The company continues to pioneer alternative fuel research. The EPA and nonprofits have recognized Toyota’s energy use reduction efforts. 

This identity for the company is crucial, particularly as millennials become an increasingly important consumer demographic. Car companies have struggled to connect with these younger consumers, who tend to drive less, care more about the environment, and lean more toward sustainable products.   

As Toyota continues its sustainability efforts and green philanthropy, it bolsters its standing in the minds of Americans as a more responsible option for car buyers.