Archives for: May 2010
Millions of people around the world are waiting for the oil to stop flowing from the Deepwater Horizon oilrig now at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico. There is no denying a general consensus of horror over the entire situation. But each individual’s reaction to the situation is different.
There have been protests across the world against BP, some have donated and raised money for the clean-up, volunteers have rehabilitated animals, scientists have tested the water, journalists have covered the events surrounding it, and some have physically watched the globs of oil wash onto their beaches.
Greenpeace UK recently responded to the oil spill, by taking advantage of its close proximity to BP’s corporate headquarters in London. Last week, members scaled the building that houses the company responsible for this environmental catastrophe and hung a flag with the words “British Polluters” and an adapted version of their logo. A large, black splotch was placed over their brightly colored logo in representation of oil.
Ben Stewart, one of the Greenpeace activists that scaled the building, was quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as saying; “It takes some cheek to go use a sunflower logo when your business is about dirty oil.”
The green and yellow sunburst was created as part of a marketing campaign in 2000 to re-brand its company as being “green.” During the same time, the company made its slogan “Beyond Petroleum.” The company is an award-winning “greenwasher.” Read more about their long history here.
The flag raising is part of Greenpeace UK’s Tar Sands Campaign against BP. Tar Sands, or oil sands, are a naturally occurring mixture of sand, water, and a very dense form of petroleum known as Bitumen. A significant amount of the material exists in Alberta Canada. According to a report from IHS Cambridge Energy Resource Associates, these reserves in particular have been pinpointed to become the largest source of crude oil imports in 2010. Exxon, Shell and BP are all sourcing from this rich region.
However, there are serious environmental consequences of sourcing petroleum from the Tar Sands. For instance, significant parts of the Boreal Forest are being cut to make room for the development; the area is the fastest growing origin of greenhouse gases in Canada, and extraction of the petroleum causes both air and water pollution.
In addition to the action that took place at the BP headquarters, Greenpeace UK is also holding a design competition as part of their Tar Sands campaign to design a logo that better fits who the company really is and the kinds of things it stands for.
Individuals can enter their new logo into the “design professionals, public, or under 18” division. An entry can be painted, colored, sketched, designed in Photoshop or created in any other innovative way. The winner of the competition will be used as the face of Greenpeace UK’s Tar Sands campaign.
See here for some of the creations entered so far.
This event, as well as the action on the part of Greenpeace UK yesterday, is both an effort to protest the environmental degradation that they are accountable for and to expose the greenwashing campaign that originally formed their misleading image.
No matter how you frame oil: in a fancy television commercial or newspaper ad featuring different shades of green, a popular song, or a logo of the sun, it will still always be oil. This is the truth no matter how well crafted a marketing spin really is. It isn’t exactly easy to put on green-tinted glasses and see oil in a different way. However, it’s what BP has been trying to do for years.
Ironically however, even oil companies have picked up on society’s drive for the words “eco-friendly,” and the dirtiest of companies are attempting to benefit from it. In the greenwashing game, profit often comes before any reputation of honesty or respect for the true meaning of “green.” Today, BP plays the game with a lot of guts.
For some time, Greenpeace has been covering BP’s greenwashing schemes. However, now that they are responsible for what could become the largest oil spill in U.S. history, we felt that recapping on their long history of environmental ploys is vital. Perhaps not all of BP’s deception has been as serious as their gross underestimate of how much oil is truly pouring from their rig. However, their smaller duplicities, the ones that haven’t left as physical or destructive of footprints, have simply served as a foundation for the much larger ones.
The goal to be painted green: The truth behind the marketing
Last year, Greenpeace awarded the BP the first “Emerald Paintbrush” award for greenwashing. Greenpeace in the UK attempted to present the company with a trophy: a paintbrush covered in green paint.
But BP wasn’t exactly cordial when accepting. See this video of Greenpeace UK attempting to deliver the award.
The award was granted to the company in recognition of its 2008 multimillion dollar marketing campaign, boldly stating a pledge to alternative energy. But the clever catchphrases, such as “from the earth to the sun and everything in between” and “the best way out of the energy fix is an energy mix,” which define their ‘green’ advertising, are hardly more than statements created from a well-paid public relations flack.
Greenpeace UK calculated information from company documents and found that the company’s investments do not match their public relations statements. BP invested 93 percent of investments into oil and gas in comparison to 2.79 percent on biofuel and 1.39 percent on solar initiatives. The ratio speaks for itself. It demonstrates (in actual numbers), the misleading nature of BP’s marketing claims of dedication toward alternative energy.
But the desire to be branded as ‘green’ has been a decade long goal for BP. In 2000, the company launched its $200 million advertising campaign to highlight a more environmental side. Their popular idiom “Beyond Petroleum” was also developed at this time.
In 2001, BP received a “Campaign of the Year Award” from PRWeek in the category of “product brand development” for that campaign, according to Source Watch.
This photo and the one above were recently taken by Greenpeace photographers at the scene of the oil spill along the Louisiana coast. Here, that same ‘Beyond Petroleum’ catchphrase simply stands as an ironic and perverse indication that oil is the true focus of this company.
But should there be any surprise?
Since the branding began in 2000, the company has been absolving itself of any accountability to its marketing.
For example, in 2009 BP further affirmed that it was never truly committed to alternative energy when that division of the company in London was shut down. Vivienne Cox, the director of solar and wind power for the company resigned at the same time. Shortly before the entire division was cut, BP’s solar projects in both Spain and the United States were ended, cutting hundreds of jobs.
The same time last year BBC reported that BP had decided to shift its priorities from being "green" to being "responsible," backing away from their environmentally friendly commitment.
"The new brand value, 'Responsible', encompasses BP's original aspirations towards the environment, in addition to other key areas such as safety and social welfare," said spokesman for the company, David Nicholas, in a April 2009 BBC story. "Our aspirations remain absolutely unchanged: no accidents, no harm to people and no damage to the environment."
A history of harm past deceptive advertising
No accidents? No harm to people, or damage to the environment? Considering the current situation, it might be an incredible underestimate to say that they haven’t exactly met their “aspirations”. While society watches as BP oil floats in a thick layer on the top of the Gulf waters destroying natural habitats and ecosystems as well as hurting the seafood industry, fisherman and locals along the coast, the quote is a biting incongruity.
However, it should be well known that the most recent oil spill is not the first time that BP has not kept its aspirations to be safe or responsible. It’s not just misleading advertising and marketing strategies related to alternative energy that define the company’s historical relationship to the environment. In fact, there have been a number of more detrimental actions than just deceptive branding.
In 2005, an explosion at a BP refinery in Texas City injured 170 people, killing 15. The company faced approximately $87 million in fines for safety hazards at the refinery including settling with the families of the victims of the explosion for $1.6 billion. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA, BP was charged with “willful”safety violations, meaning a company was aware of the hazards and violations.
A year after Texas City, in 2006, BP became responsible for the largest spill on the North Slope in Alaska. A corroded pipeline in Prudhoe Bay dumped 200,000 gallons of oil over the course of 5 days. It was estimated to have covered two acres. Months later, the pipeline leaked 1,000 gallons again.
The Center for Public Integrity also recently found that in total, BP was responsible for 97 percent of all violations found in the past three years.
Considering these instances, there is no wonder or surprise in the fact that safety is being considered as a factor in the Deepwater Horizon disaster. A recent investigation by Representative Henry Waxman found that the rig’s “blowout preventer” had a leak in the hydraulic system and that it had failed a pressure test hours before the explosion. This finding was exacerbated when a whistleblower in the industry said that BP was aware of safety issues related to the Atlantis, another deepwater rig in the Gulf.
Despite the significant amount of evidence proving that they had a history of safety violations, serious irony occurred on the same day of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Also on April 20, BP flew officials onto the rig to celebrate its safety record. The circumstances almost seem too strange to be real: something that would happen in a comedic cartoon of the event.
While it’s not exactly a secret that many companies have piggy backed on the swelling wave of interest in the term ‘green,’ it’s slightly ironic that BP, with this kind of history would have the fortitude to ever consider themselves a truly environmentally friendly company.
Group vice president for marketing for BP, Anna Catalano, once told the New York Times that BP is "the company that goes beyond what you expect from an oil company -- frank, open, honest and unapologetic."
Given the information above and the current oil spill, it’s hard to agree that the first three of the above adjectives accurately describe this company. Its clear that one of these applies.
While we are aware of many individual companies that undermine the meaning and true purpose of the term ‘environmentally friendly,’ Greenpeace recently received a tip that many businesses within one industry may all have the ability to participate in an extensive greenwashing scheme.
An anonymous source inside in the restaurant industry recently led us to a new program sponsored by the National Restaurant Association called ‘Greener Restaurants,’ where any restaurant across the county, who claims to practice environmentally friendly initiatives can become a member.
The subscription fee is $250, and the restaurants receive a door decal and certificate that can be displayed in the restaurant, proudly announcing their eco-efforts. Participants also get their name in the “Green Dining Finder,” an online service for consumers looking to dine at sustainable restaurants.
But as our insider has shown us, it takes no more than a couple clicks through a “self-evaluation” checklist, covering topics such as energy efficiency, water conservation, and waste reduction, and a restaurant can easily receive a ‘green’ certification from the National Restaurant Association.
“They have made a mistake in putting out a deceptive, dishonest program that is going to harm businesses,” the anonymous source said. “Their reputations will be harmed because consumers will find out that to put that certificate on your window means nothing.”
Our source created a membership to the program and found that it took less than five minutes before he was downloading certificates showing the restaurant participated in sustainable practices. One green certification was received in less than 30 seconds when they checked a box claiming the restaurant had a “green marketing plan.”
“I say I have a green marketing plan with one click and immediately get a certificate,” said our source. “That makes a business green? I don’t think so.”
See the following youtube videos our source made to show how easy it is to earn the green certification.
In this first video, our source shows it took approximately 30 seconds to earn a certification after clicking that the restaurant had a green marketing plan.
This video shows that by clicking 5 more things, claiming that the restaurant had done an assessment on energy and water, another certificate was earned in 90 seconds.
Without any kind of screening or inspection to make sure that the restaurant was really following sustainable practices or any environmental changes being implemented at all, a restaurant with a printer and $250, could lead customers to believe they are an environmentally friendly establishment.
And the creators of “Greener Restaurants” are well aware of the value of the green label. Forty-four percent of adults say they are more likely to make a restaurant choice based on its environmental practices, boldly states the program’s website. It’s a fact that would easily sway any restaurant owner into forking out the subscription fee for more customers in return.
However, the increase in consumer desire for more sustainable products and practices is only truly beneficial, if what is actually being offered is true to what is being marketed. While it’s possible that some restaurant owners would use this site responsibly, there simply isn’t any way to verify this. No one is making sure that the people behind the clicks of the computer mouse do really use energy efficient appliances or practice responsible waste reduction techniques in their restaurant.
The fact further exacerbating the greenwashing action of this website can be found in the policies and make-up of the National Restaurant Association itself. It’s a powerful group comprised of nearly 945,000 restaurant and food service outlets across the country. The website calls the group “the cornerstone of the economy, career opportunities and community involvement,” in the restaurant industry. And while the association certainly holds a lot of weight, its reputation as an organization itself is not one that deserves a ‘green’ certification.
The only public policy issue brief under the “Sustainability and Social Responsibility” section of the National Restaurant Association’s website, is one for climate change. The brief states that the group is against cap and trade legislation because it goes “too far, too fast, and will hurt many small businesses.” The association said it would impact the industry by significantly increasing utility bills. Additionally, the organization states that climate change policies would force agricultural suppliers to change their production, thus also having an impact on suppliers of the National Restaurant Association.
“The National Restaurant Association will be working closely with Senate staff to make sure the industry’s concerns are known and to prevent the passage of any bill that could have such a serious impact on our industry,” states the brief.
While Greenpeace also opposes current cap and trade legislation, it does so for completely opposite reasons, stating that the legislation is too weak and doesn't set strong enough emission reduction targets or go far enough in supporting renewable energy. Instead the legislation subsidizes a new generation of dirty fossil fuel investments, which Greenpeace cannot support.
The fact that the National Restaurant Association opposes this legislation for going too far, makes their “Greener Restaurant” initiative seem even less valid and less in accordance with true purposes of being environmentally friendly.
See here for more information on the background and political history of the association and why their certification program cannot be trusted.
According to a 2009 Cone Consumer Environmental Survey, 63 percent of Americans trust companies to tell them the truth when it comes to environmental messaging and marketing. The difference between this scheme and others currently occurring is that the possibility for many restaurants to participate in this program at the same time. This means that there is great probability that many consumers could be affected. When taking into consideration the number of people that dine at restaurants throughout the country and the number of restaurants that could participate in the program, the potential for greenwashing on a widespread level is great.
“This undermines the whole concept of businesses out there who are legitimately trying to do something green,” said the source. “That is the biggest casualty of this.”
While an insider recently brought it to our attention that the National Restaurant Association’s new Greener Restaurants website was a scheme that allowed any restaurant to receive the ‘environmentally friendly’ label, Greenpeace has done more digging on the group and the details that truly define it.
In addition to opposing climate change legislation for fear that it will harm their members and the restaurant industry, other details disclose whom they support and where their support comes from. These questions are often quite telling of the purposes and motives of any group.
For example, according to opensecrets.org, the top federal candidates receiving contributions from the National Restaurant Association’s Political Action Committee during the 2010 political cycle are two Republicans whose history of votes are ones that you could not certify as ‘green.’
John Thune, Republican Senator from South Dakota up for reelection, received $10,000 from the National Restaurant Association during 2010. In 2008, Thune voted no on tax incentives concerning energy production and conservation. In 2005, he also voted no against reducing oil usage by 40 % by 2025 and banning drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Prior to that, he was against increasing CAFE or Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards as a way to increase incentives to use alternative fuels and implementing the Kyoto Protocol.
Thune’s opposition to climate change legislation was well documented last year, when he proclaimed “I will work with every fiber of my being to defeat the [climate change] bill.”
Eric Cantor, Republican from Virginia received $6,000 from the National Restaurant Association, the largest contribution to a House candidate during the 2010 cycle. In the last 10 years, his voting history includes “no” to enforcing carbon dioxide limits; investing in homegrown bio fuels, tax incentives for renewable energy and energy conservation, and keeping a moratorium on offshore drilling.
And then there’s George Allen. He’s one of the keynote speakers at next week’s Heartland Institute’s Climate Change Conference (a.k.a. Denial Palooza) and during the 2006 political cycle, the Republican Senate candidate from Virginia received $10,000 from the National Restaurant Association, one of the largest contributions given that year.
He has voted to end CAFE standards and drilling on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and also against actions such as reducing oil usage by 2025 and including oil and smokestacks under mercury regulations.
But not only has Allen made historically conservative votes, threatening important legislation to the future of the environment, but he is also the head of an initiative known as the American Energy Freedom Center that supports coal, nuclear power and offshore drilling.
In the blog on the American Energy Freedom Center’s website, Allen is quoted as saying, “Electricity generated by American coal plants and hydro dams provide the most affordable electricity for families and businesses.”
In September 2009, Allen also showed his true colors at a town hall meeting in Virginia.
According to the “Collegian,” University of Richmond’s independent student newspaper, Allen said, “We don’t care what our cars run on,” Allen said. “They could run on Alaska oil, Louisiana oil, vegetable oil or Coal-syn fuels, water or natural gas as long as it’s available, affordable and reliable.
At the same event, he also said, “You’ll hear from these pompous elites, that Americans are addicted to oil. Americans are not addicted to oil. Americans are addicted to freedom – the freedom and independence to move where and when we want – and I believe that Americans can keep that independence.”
He has dedicated what he considers “freedom” and “independence” to creating the American Energy Freedom Center. It’s his brainchild and a project of the Institute for Energy Research, an initiative funded by ExxonMobil. In 2007, the oil company provided nearly 10 percent of the Institute for Energy Research’s budget.
See exxonsecrets.org for more information on Allen.
These are the kinds of people that the National Restaurant Association is funding to put harmful energy policies and campaigns into action. Can we really trust such a group to be the bearer of ‘green’ certifications to restaurants across the country? Are these really the people that we want holding the label for restaurants to be considered “environmentally friendly?”
The political contributions of this association tells a significant amount about true face behind this Greener Restaurants website.
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.