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BP Amoco's ''Plug in the Sun'' Program

by Kenny BrunoCorpWatch
July 1st, 1999

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BP Solar brochure BP Solar brochure
BP Solar brochure BP Solar brochure

See the full text of the BP Solar brochure.

The competition was intense for this season's special Greenhouse Greenwash Award. The TRAC Greenwash Committee received nominations for five of the largest corporate climate culprits on earth:

  • Chevron, for its "People Do" advertising campaign.

  • Exxon, for its "Save the Tiger Fund," which associates its logo with the endangered tiger.

  • Mobil, for its unctuous weekly op-ed page ads in the New York Times. In May of this year, Mobil boasted of how it overcame environmentalists' alarm at plans to develop oil in the sensitive Tambopata rainforest of Peru. If Mobil's ads are to be believed, Conservation International's collaboration in this unnecessary and destructive project has been secured.

  • Shell, for its "Profits or Principles" philosophy that indicates that it does not need to choose between profits and principles but can satisfy everyone. A recent ad in Business Week, replete with exuberant green foliage behind the company logo, claims Shell is "focusing [its] energies on developing [renewable energy] solutions." Meanwhile, its Annual Report documents fossil fuel growth and the astounding global reach of its oil and gas exploration and production operations.


Plug in the Sun?

But BP Amoco, the British company made up of British Petroleum and Amoco combined, one-upped its fellow oil giants to grab the Summer award for Greenhouse Greenwash.

BP Amoco Chairman Sir John Browne laid the groundwork last year with his endorsement of the precautionary principle and recognition that BP needs to take into account the views of the society in which it operates.

Solar Paneled Gas Station
Solar Paneled Gas Station

Then came a commitment to reduce BP's own emissions by 10% by the year 2010.

On March 7th, 1999, BP Amoco bought Solarex for $45 million, making it the largest solar company in the world.

And on March 13th, John Browne announced that BP Amoco would install solar panels in 200 gas stations around the world.

BP's "Plug in the Sun" program follows the model of the vertically integrated oil company -- creating a market for its own solar panels. So far so good.

But wait a minute! These are gasoline stations we're talking about. What's the message here?

"We can fill you up by sunshine," says BP. But they are still filling you up WITH GASOLINE, the lifeblood of the oil industry, and a leading cause of global warming.

No one denies the importance of developing solar energy. Still, solar-powered gas stations are deeply ironic for the climate protection movement. BP Amoco hopes you will feel you are putting "some sun in your life," even as you put greenhouse gases in your tank.

The Bottom Line

A week before the purchase of Solarex, BP Amoco showed its true colors (closer to black than green) when it purchased ARCO for $26.5 billion. This made BP Amoco one of the two largest oil companies in the world, and one of the largest companies of any kind anywhere. The burning of fossil fuels -- oil, gas and coal -- is at the heart of the most threatening environmental problem of all, global climate change. And it's production and marketing of fossil fuels which remains at the heart of BP Amoco as well. Everything else is window dressing.

Solar Paneled Gas Station
Solar Paneled Gas Station

Let's take the 10% emissions reduction target. It sounds like quite a nice stride, until you consider that BP Amoco's direct emissions are almost irrelevant. Its main role in causing climate change is not from company emissions, but from the oil and gas it produces.

BP Amoco's website features the catch phrase "I am only one." But when it comes to climate change, BP is not like you or me. Its corporate responsibility extends far beyond that of the average oil user. The burning of fossil fuels from BP Amoco (including ARCO) alone leads to emissions greater than those of Central America, Canada or Britain. BP Amoco oil and gas accounts for about two percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.

For a giant like BP, being the world's largest solar company is not a difficult accomplishment. The $45 million spent on Solarex is just a fraction of the $400 million Stamp Duty Reserve Tax associated with the purchase of ARCO. ARCO's $26.5 billion price tag was 588 times more than what BP spent on Solarex. Even with the planned ten-fold increase in expenditures on renewable energy, those will amount to less than 2 percent of expenditures on oil.

Meanwhile, in Alaska alone, BP Amoco will spend $5 billion in the next five years on oil exploration and production. The company is also active in Venezuela, Egypt, Colombia, the Caspian region and elsewhere. BP Amoco is committed, over the long term, to oil and gas. This contradiction to its professed concern about global warming is explained lamely by the company: "...plentiful supply [of fossil fuels] is essential...if we are to make a successful transition towards a cleaner environment."

How's that again? Expansion of the oil industry is the key to a cleaner environment? When profits are at issue, the BP Amoco's professed cooperation with the world community, along with common sense, simply goes up in smoke. Still, the company hopes that by spending just .01% of its portfolio on solar as it explores for more oil and sells more gasoline, it can convince itself and others of it's own slogan: BP knows, BP cares, BP is our leader.


Text from the BP Solar Ad:

BP SOLAR INTERNATIONAL, a wholly owned subsidiary of British Petroleum, is one of the world's largest solar power companies. Latest figures indicate that BP has a 10 percent share of the $800 million market and is the largest solar company in the world in terms of sales revenue. It was established in 1981 and has enjoyed 17 years of uninterrupted growth.

It has manufacturing plants in Spain, Australia, India, America, Thailand and Saudi Arabia. It has sales and marketing offices in 16 countries and sells to 160 countries world-wide.

The industry is small but growing. In 1997 manufacturers shipped modules capable of generating around 100 megawatts of electricity between them. Projections for the year 2010 suggest a probable world market 10 to 20 times larger and worth $3 - $5 billion a year.

BP Solar has announced ambitious targets -- to grow turnover to $1 billion by 2007. We are expanding our manufacturing capability: in January 1998 we opened our plant in California -- our first in the US -- and announced a doubling of capacity at our plant in Spain. Solar's time has come: this will be one of the great enterprises of the 21st century.


Sources:

CorpWatch takes this opportunity to recognize the entry of "greenwash" into the official lexicon of the English language. The Tenth Edition of the Concise Oxford English Dictionary defines greenwash (n) as "Disinformation disseminated by an organisation so as to present an environmentally responsible public image. Derivatives greenwashing (n). Origin from green on the pattern of whitewash."