|New Internationalist, June 2001|
EDITOR'S NOTE: Given the ongoing ecological crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, CorpWatch recently authored a Crocodyl (Collaborative Research On Corporations) company profile on BP. For information on BP's history and track record over time, please see:
Originally published on December 14, 2000.
British Petroleum's recent ad campaign with the theme of "Beyond
Petroleum," led us to think about more appropriate phrases for the
company's re-branding: British Petroleum: Beyond
Pompous, Beyond Protest, Beyond Pretension, Beyond Preposterous, Beyond
Platitudes, Beyond Posturing, Beyond Presumptuous, Beyond Propaganda...
Recently BP, the world's second largest oil company and one of the
world's largest corporations, advertised its new identity as a leader in
moving the world "Beyond Petroleum." Such leadership would benefit the
world's climate and many of its communities immensely, according to
British Petroleum. Sound too good to be true? Let's see.
BP says Beyond Petroleum means "being a global leader in producing
the cleanest burning fossil fuel: Natural Gas." It's true that natural
gas is not petroleum, but is it true that gas is a radical improvement
over oil for our climate? In theory, natural gas emits somewhat less
carbon dioxide than oil for the same energy produced. But when fugitive
emissions, or leaks, are counted, the difference is slim to none. For
the climate, natural gas is at best an incremental improvement over oil,
and at worst a distraction from the real challenge of moving our
societies away from fossil fuels.
That challenge is what is meant by "moving beyond petroleum" when
environmental groups. Rainforest Action Network, for example, says their
Beyond Oil campaign works to "move our societies out of our devastating
dependence on fossil fuels and into renewable energy options..." BP's
re-branding as the "Beyond Petroleum" company is perhaps the ultimate
co-optation of environmentalists' language and message. Even apart from
the twisting of language, BP's suggestion that producing more natural
gas is somehow akin to global leadership is preposterous. Make that
BP's claim to be "the largest producer of solar energy in the
world" is a little more serious. But being #1 for BP is so easy. It was
achieved by spending $45 million to buy the Solarex solar energy
corporation. That's a tiny fraction of the $26.5 billion it spent to buy
ARCO in order to increase BP's production capacity for...oil. BP will
spend $5 billion over five years for oil exploration in Alaska alone.
And, according to one group of BP shareholders, BP spent more on their
new eco-friendly logo last year than on renewable energy.
When a company spends more on advertising its environmental
friendliness than on environmental actions, that's greenwash.
Speaking of greenwash, BP's Herald Tribune ad (pictured
here) is a bizarre classic of the genre. It is difficult to guess what
their ad firm was trying to convey with the picture of partially
submerged trees. Perhaps its just an unusual nature photo, or perhaps
its meant to remind us of the frightening potential for rising sea
levels and flooding from global warming. Or perhaps it's a Freudian
slip, an unintentional reminder that BP's massive fossil fuel production
is responsible for a substantial portion of global carbon emissions,
and therefore, climate change.
The ambiguity continues with the copy, "...starting a journey that
will take the world's expectations of energy beyond what anyone can see
today." Pretentious stuff for a company serving mainly oil and gas, with
just a sliver of solar on the side. Make that Beyond Pretentious.
- means being a global leader in producing the cleanest burning fossil
fuel. Natural Gas.
- means being the first company to introduce cleaner burning fuels to
many of the world's most polluted cities.
- means being the largest producer of solar energy in the world.
- means starting a journey that will take a world's expectations of
energy beyond what anyone can see today.
International Herald Tribune