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bp's environmental makeover
December 19, 2002 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Beyond petroleum? British Petroleum’s recent $200-million makeover into sunny-logoed bp seems to respond to mounting concerns over pollution, global warming, and wars for oil. By advocating alternatives to the very product that has made it the world’s seventh-largest company, it also seems like economic suicide. In accordance with their environmental goals, they've helped release bald eagles in Manhattan and bring solar power to rural Tibet, but many remain unconvinced. Each bp ad ended with the same tagline: “It’s a start.” Is it?
posted by gottabefunky (31 comments total)

 
They're making more of 'a start' than similar companies like Exxon-Mobil.

While a company feels no pressure to change quickly, it won't, so these baby steps are significant in their own way, although the cynic in me says it's all a play for image.
posted by wackybrit at 9:25 AM on December 19, 2002


BP is really just greenwashing their image.

Oxford English Dictionary Definition:

green*wash: (n) 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.

More and more companies are starting marketing campaigns that make it appear like they are changing, but if you dig a little there's not much underneath
posted by batboy at 9:34 AM on December 19, 2002


i've thought BP has been doing some good work. maybe they are greenwashing their image, batboy. have you got any examples, or are you just saying?
posted by moz at 9:40 AM on December 19, 2002


Here is the question:

Oil as we know is a finite resource. It is more that likely that in the next 50-100 years we will exhaust our supply of it or reduce it's availability to the point where it is no longer an economically viable energy source.

Probably more important than this though is the fact that if we do burn up all the oil and gas available to us we will likely make the world vastly less habitable.

Which do you prefer? A company that admits the two facts above or a company that steadfastly refuses that neither is a reality?
posted by aaronscool at 9:45 AM on December 19, 2002


Even if it's greenwashing, it's a lot more than the other petroco.s are doing.
posted by riffola at 9:47 AM on December 19, 2002


If it's all greenwash, it's working on me.

I think they're a little overstated on this one on their site: "BP has a simply stated goal - to do no damage to the environment," but if any oil company is committed to decreasing the damage they cause on the environment, I'd go with the British one over an American one any day. I read somewhere that BP is the largest investor in alternative energy technology--wind, solar, etc. Can anyone verify this?
posted by gramcracker at 9:51 AM on December 19, 2002


agree on all points!
posted by muppetboy at 9:51 AM on December 19, 2002


Stance on global warming: BP and Amoco joined the Global Climate Coalition separately, then left after their merger. The new BP then adopted a greener stance, joined the Business Environmental Leadership Council, and offered its support of the Kyoto accord. BP's group chief executive, Sir John Browne, endorsed the precautionary principle on global warming in 1997; the following year he committed to a 10 percent reduction of the company's CO2 emissions by 2010. ARCO remained in the Global Climate Coalition until the group ceased accepting memberships from individual companies.

Green initiatives: BP cultivates a reputation as a progressive oil company, touting conversations with Amnesty International about human-rights issues associated with oil exploration, working with the World Wildlife Fund to preserve biodiversity in Bolivia and China, and developing low-sulfur gasoline to be sold in 40 of the world's most polluted cities. In 1999, BP bought Solarex for $45 million, making it the largest solar company in the world, and announced plans to install solar panels on 200 gas stations. (Its solar subsidiary still accounts for scarcely 0.1 percent of its revenue, however.) ARC0 is a participant in the California Fuel Cell Partnership, which aims to produce 70 fuel-cell passenger cars and buses between 2000 and 2003.

from "Pick Your Poison", Sierra Club, 2001

BP, the company formerly known as British Petroleum, has announced that it will leave Arctic Power, a major lobbying group bent on opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling.

While spokesmen for the company insist that "a signal isn't being sent," environmentalists, fearing a renewed push in the Senate to spearhead drilling, can't help but celebrate the news. BP is a major player in Alaska and one of only two companies to sink exploratory wells in the refuge 20 years ago.

Some observers think the decision is based as much on economic reality as it is public image considerations. The Public Interest Research Group's Athan Manuel explains to the New York Times: "They seem to have studied the geology and the economics of how much oil they can get out of there, and I think they decided they can't get the oil out economically. So it's financially risky. And politically, it's not a popular stance."

from "Currents", Sierra Club, 2002
posted by Dean King at 9:53 AM on December 19, 2002


Well, any company that spends more on advertising its environmental friendliness than on environmental actions, is greenwashing to me.

and they're not really alone. Chevron has its "People Do" advertising campaign, Shell has its "Profits or Principles" philosophy, Exxon has its "Save the Tiger Fund"
posted by batboy at 9:54 AM on December 19, 2002


Oil as we know is a finite resource. It is more that likely that in the next 50-100 years we will exhaust our supply of it or reduce it's availability to the point where it is no longer an economically viable energy source.

Facts like these are thrown up quite often, but how reliable are they?

In the 50s it was thought oil and gas could run out before the 80s, in the 80s it was thought we'd run out in the early 2000's.. now? We're looking at 2030 and beyond. Could enough matter be turning into oil at this very minute to replace what we're taking out? Or at the very least, we must be hitting large previously unknown reserves to plug the gap.

As the potential for fuel economy rockets upwards, oil might become a friendly fuel after all, and we'll all use less as a result.
posted by wackybrit at 10:08 AM on December 19, 2002


[snip] environmentalists, fearing a renewed push in the Senate to spearhead drilling, can't help but celebrate the news. BP is a major player in Alaska and one of only two companies to sink exploratory wells in the refuge 20 years ago.

One of the alternative solutions was to build the wells in the Yukon at a 45 degree angle so the oil under Alaska could be tapped. It'd certainly allow the Alaskan wilderness to remain untouched, so it gets my vote.
posted by wackybrit at 10:12 AM on December 19, 2002


I would venture to say that a lot of people will not know where exactly their gasoline is coming from, which refiner, because more and more will go to purchasing from agents such as Sam's Club, Kroger, Meijer, et. al.

In the Midwest, Mobil (of the bigoted Exxon Mobil) launched a destribution agreement with United Dairy Farmers to rebrand all their fueling stations with Mobil signs, signs which previously simply say UDF.

It will become necessary to make their brands known, and make themselves visible, to counteract these moves towards the store-branded fueling stations. What one was the province of convenience stores is fast becoming the province of major grocery stores.
posted by benjh at 10:17 AM on December 19, 2002


To get a clearer picture of the real situation of oil and its future I recommend you the Simmons & Company International website. They are an investment bank specialized in energy.

Its funder, Matthew R. Simmons tours frequently giving conferences. His speeches are very interesting coming from a texan oil banker that is also friend of the Bush family.

It's a good start to understand concepts like oil depletion, energy shock and others issues that torment the energy industry.
posted by samelborp at 10:25 AM on December 19, 2002


Batboy, I understand your suspicion, but BP has done some substantial things in this direction.

BP has stopped making campaign contributions entirely, according to Nader. It has also made its refineries compliant with standards set well into the future and still ran a healthy profit. I try to buy BP whenever possible.
posted by mblandi at 10:26 AM on December 19, 2002


As the potential for fuel economy rockets upwards, oil might become a friendly fuel after all, and we'll all use less as a result.

Yes I'm sure we could probably keep milking oil as an energy source for up to 100 years. While proven reserves hover at about 40 years worth of current consumption this number can and will change as potentially more oil is discovered (likely) and/or fuel economy increases (likely) and/or worldwide consumption increases (highly likely).

This argument aside if we do burn all the oil we can find I can assure you at that point running out of it will be the least of our problems.
posted by aaronscool at 10:31 AM on December 19, 2002


This argument aside if we do burn all the oil we can find I can assure you at that point running out of it will be the least of our problems.

Not to play devil's advocate, but could this argument also be a non issue, or at least less of one, in the future?

Pollution and smog were rampant in 1800s Europe with the amount of coal burning, and I've certainly seen the odd graph here and there which shows we pollute the earth less than we did 30 years ago thanks to new technologies (and the mass introduction of cleaner fuels in Europe).

Could there be such a thing as a 'perfect' way of handling and using fossil fuels which doesn't harm the planet?
posted by wackybrit at 10:41 AM on December 19, 2002


Aaronscool - Although it's a scary prospect to use the rest of the oil, it will be far worse if we continue to use coal. Although there's only a few generations of oil left, there's more than 300 years worth of coal around. If we use all the coal we're talking Jurrasic park earth in terms of temperature. Humans weren't even around when the earth had that climate. And people think we have water problems now - just wait.

Point is, we have to start using new forms of energy, yesterday.
posted by humbe at 10:54 AM on December 19, 2002


back to the last question by gottabefunky of "is it a start?," I guess it is. However, my opinion is that it isn't much of one, it's mostly window washing.

What really needs to happen is a drastic change in how people, corporations, and government view resource use. Does anyone really believe that releasing bald eagles in Manhattan addresses any of these issues?
posted by batboy at 11:08 AM on December 19, 2002


Sure. Here's some wacky ways to continue using fossil fuels. We could turn the greenhouse gas emissions (CO2) into dry ice or liquify it and pump it back into the same reservoirs we took the fossil fuel from. Only problem is it'd take more energy to do this than what we get out of it in the first place. Or pump it into the deep ocean where it would acidify the water and would end up in the atmosphere anyway because of ocean circulation - a lame idea given our already troubled oceans and that it just puts off the inevitable.
posted by humbe at 11:37 AM on December 19, 2002


batboy: you are asking some good questions - there is nothing wrong with questioning the motives of any entity when such huge sums of money are involved.

When Browne broke from the oil major pack 5 years ago on what was until then a monolithic stance on the environment, he did it because he believed climate change was an unavoidable issue. Although some oil companies (especially Shell) now have pro-environmental policies, he was isolated and condemned by his peers at the time for what was regarded as the betrayal of the industry (and still is by most US-based majors).

However, he also recognised that any solutions needed to be palatable to the public and commercially achievable by the company. Slate's article is slightly misleading as it suggests the answer either has to be revolutionary or it is nothing. Instead, he systematically rebiased the company's portfolio away from (environmentally very damaging) black oil production towards (much less damaging) gas production. The company was able to retain its core competence in finding, extracting, transporting, refining, converting and marketing hydrocarbon products, but dramatically reduced the environmental impact of its operations. In fact, the whole 'beyond petroleum' thing can be interpreted as a strategic shift away from black oil to hydrogen - the so called "lightening of the product".

Another key aspect of its transformation was its rebranding. Part of the rebrand was driven by a pressing internal need to integrate two radically different cultures (BP and Amoco). They took the view that best way was to abandon both previous brands and replace them with a new one that reflected (hopefully) forward looking values. The hard part was working out what those values should be, and adopting them in such a way that it didn't thoroughly bamboozle the consumers. It is fair to say that that ambition has been only partially successful.

Having exceeded all of the emissions reductions targets set out in 1996, bp's strategy is now to pursue "stabilization" - the maximum level of carbon dioxide in the air that is below the level of risk. They are pretty clear, though, that achieving flat emissions from growing output - with all the easy gains from efficiency, quality, low carbon content and renewables already accessed - is going to be tough and that gains will have to come from other approaches. That is why they are leading the introduction of a system of credits and substitution to support global scale emission trading.

It is also worth pointing out some other aspects of bp's approach to business. They have one of the lowest death and injury rates in the industry. They have abandoned the use of facilitation payments as a means of securing business. They make no political contributions.

[His speech Business and The Environment in the 21st Century makes interesting background reading on this topic, as does the International Climate Change panel's paper on clean development mechanisms.]
posted by RichLyon at 12:50 PM on December 19, 2002


Is any of the top 5 big oil companies in the top 5 of wind, solar or biomass energy technology sector? No - none, although these energy sectors are tiny compared to their operations. My conclusion: all just public relations - no real commitment. Or simply put: liars.
posted by ugly_n_sticky at 1:42 PM on December 19, 2002


One of the alternative solutions was to build the wells in the Yukon at a 45 degree angle so the oil under Alaska could be tapped.

was that solution proposed by the Burns Slant-Drilling Company?
posted by chrisege at 2:10 PM on December 19, 2002


No, it was proposed by the Bush Slant-Drilling company a subsidiary of the Bush Administration, Inc.
posted by humbe at 2:18 PM on December 19, 2002


ugly_n_sticky:
Is any of the top 5 big oil companies in the top 5 of wind, solar or biomass energy technology sector?

read up a ways and you'll see this:

In 1999, BP bought Solarex for $45 million, making it the largest solar company in the world, and announced plans to install solar panels on 200 gas stations.

but then again, maybe the lying oil companies paid the sierra club off to lie about that, and bp really isn't the largest solar company in the world after all? damn those liars!
posted by chrisege at 2:29 PM on December 19, 2002


Samelborp - *WOW* thanks for that head's up. "Speeches" indeed: mainstream acknowledgment of the Hubbert Curve realm.
posted by troutfishing at 7:20 PM on December 19, 2002


greenwashing or not, bp certainly seems to have leftistfilter's vote (mine included).

Most of the world's petroleum industry is just that - a petroleum industry. Dig a hole, pump out some oil, dip a baby seal in it - their entire existence has to do with the managing the logistics of our planet's 300 million year old dead swamps.

This is much like the United States' intercity transportation system circa 1920, which at that time was concerned with the logistics of great chains of hulking steel railcars moving about on parallel rails. They didn't realize that what people wanted was not trains, but to move people and goods from place to place. Which is why we now have a nationalized passenger rail system that Congress is trying very, very hard to kill, and a diminished freight network that can't compete with the semitrailers driven by ephedrine addicts that make road trips (which would be unnecessary without the dysfunctional passenger rail system, mind you) so much fun these days.

bp, or at least their marketing people, actually showed up to class the day their b-school professor told this story. People don't want oil. Oil is a fairly disgusting, unpersonable substance. People want their cars (or trains) to go, their appliances to run, their TVs to show banal early 90's sitcoms. bp has been jockeying to transform itself into an energy company, capable of providing power whatever the medium. Which is why, if the oil crash happened today, bp would be the last man standing.
posted by Vetinari at 7:49 PM on December 19, 2002


Another example: Shell is contributing to Iceland's project to completely switch from fossil feuls to hydrogen.
posted by homunculus at 9:24 PM on December 19, 2002


[OK. I registered for the NYT (I didn't realise it was free) and read the piece. Sorry for replicating some of the material. And the info on political donations was new, so thank you for posting the link. The link I supplied is to the speech referred to, so hope that was useful.]
posted by RichLyon at 1:50 AM on December 20, 2002


A chapter in this book, Molecules at an Exhibition: Portraits of Intriguing Materials in Everyday Life, suggests it is more likely that we will asphyxiate ourselves before we run out of fossil fuel to burn. It's a fascinating book and, while the above sounds like part of a crack-pot-pro-environmentalist rant, the book takes a very even-handed look at everything from why chocolate is so appealing to why, well, we might someday all choke. /aside
posted by Dick Paris at 3:17 AM on December 20, 2002


I think BP's ads are shockingly good. As with a lot of things, it really doesn't matter if BP's heart is in the right place: objectively, they're furthering the idea that fossil fuels, at least as currently combusted, are BAD, and that the problem must be addressed. And that trumps anything else the company is, or isn' t doing. So I say BRAVO.
posted by ParisParamus at 5:00 AM on December 20, 2002


Re: Releasing eagles in Manhattan. This came about due to a personal directive by Attorney General John Ashcroft, to "let the eagle soar, like she's never soared before"

As to why on earth, in the current political climate, a major corporation is putting up ads around Washington, DC saying things like "Beyond Petroleum" -- can anyone spell naine-wun-wun, alkayduhhh, saudyaraybiuh, sahhhdamn, glowbal whorming? Probably knot!
posted by sheauga at 7:56 PM on December 21, 2002


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