Archives for: June 2010
In any field, there are major players who stand out. Each industry has certain companies that everyone simply knows by name. They are often the largest or wealthiest, and they almost always dominate the rest. Considering this, when it comes to coal, Southern Company is infamous. It is the eighth largest utility company in the world and the second largest in the United States, getting the majority of its energy supply from coal. But the company also gets a significant amount of its notoriety from its many other crooked practices. Greenpeace has long investigated Southern Company for funding Senators like Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who has worked to overturn the EPA’s authority on the Clean Air Act, and the company’s legacy of dedicating effort and money to prevent other clean energy futures as well.
See here for Greenpeace’s effort to publicize Lisa Murkowski’s connections to companies such as Southern Company, Exxon and Chevron.
Southern Company is among the top five highest carbon dioxide emitting power companies in the world, according to Carbon Monitoring for Action. In 2006, one of the company’s subsidiaries was sued for violating the Clean Air Act and another of it’s plants in Georgia is facing environmental justice issues for being too close to residencies.
Given these facts, when we saw that Southern Company had bought a half page ad in the Washington Post earlier this month depicting a cartoon figure holding a chunk of green colored coal, it seemed a little suspicious. It seemed like greenwashing. The ad claims that Southern Company is “working toward building the world’s first zero-emissions, coal-fired generating plant” and “is spending $3.9 billion over the next three years to lower coal emissions.” But the message is hard to believe when considering the true nature of this company. In fact, it’s a 360-degree turn around from what has traditionally defined the company.
One underlying message clearly depicted in the ad is the idea of Carbon, Capture and Storage to create the so-called “zero emissions” plant. CCS is a process of capturing and then storing CO2 from point sources, such as coal-fired power plants, underground. The company alludes to this process in the advertisement with the statement, “..if you’re looking for the best energy solution, start with what’s under your feet.”
But CCS is not any kind of proven solution to take care of CO2. In fact, Greenpeace believes it actually fosters the dependence on fossil fuels.
Another prominent theme in this ad is “common sense.” It states at the top, “Common sense says don’t eliminate what you can make cleaner,” and toward the bottom reads “powered by common sense.” However, knowing about this company’s history and the science behind coal, it seems more sensible to say that there isn’t any truth to this ad.
The background of this company makes this advertisement a perfect example of greenwashing and any efforts they claim to have toward clean energy null and void. They are a coal company and revolve around something that will never be clean or safe.
Green coal will always exist only in the mind of a sketch artist; Never in reality and especially not from a group like Southern Company.
Lately, a significant amount of news on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill has centered upon the giant, underwater plumes of oil currently being investigated by both scientists and journalists.
ABC News has referred to the plumes as “islands” in a frightening video showing evidence that the oil has reached significant depths.
The thought that the oil could at one point be soaked up along the surface with booms made of hair is now a hopeless wish that existed long ago. But it’s clear that the oil will reach many more creatures and ecosystems than originally thought.
One of the environments currently being threatened is the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary off the coast of Texas and Louisiana. The underwater oil “islands” threaten the bountiful life that currently exists in the region and the possibility that it will ever be the same again.
See here for more information on the oil spill’s effects on this area.
However, when researching this marine sanctuary, we also discovered that it was also once the focus of a major greenwashing scheme headed by Shell Oil Company.
At a time when the fate of this federally protected area is so vulnerable and at risk of being altered forever by oil, Greenpeace felt it necessary to shed light on the ironic fact that Shell has used the place to brand its own image as green and actually caring about the environment.
The oil company ran a full-page print advertisement in National Geographic Magazine and several other publications, which featured a color picture of a diver swimming through deep blue water featuring brightly colored fish and coral. The statement in the middle of the ad says: “What do we really need in today’s energy hungry world? More gardeners.”
More gardeners? If that’s really what we needed, we could just stop drilling for oil all together right? All we need is more gardeners.
But Shell doesn’t really mean that at all.
They know that in today’s energy hungry world, oil is the food and the company’s main priority. Even through the thickest green glasses, few are going to dispute that fact.
The rest of the text on the advertisement reads that a Shell employee and marine biologist has been working with the company to protect the area.
But how much could the oil giant really be protecting when the company also actually drills near the vulnerable sanctuary.
The advertisement and words on the page are clearly for show.
Shell does have close ties to the Flower Gardens. In fact, an executive from Shell Canada, Rebecca Nadel serves on the sanctuary’s advisory council. Also on the team for the sanctuary is James Sinclair of the now notorious Minerals Management Service. At first glance, it doesn’t exactly look like those employed to protect the sanctuary are representing the most responsible organizations.
Shell has a cozy bed in sanctuary bureaucracy.
The company however, does donate money to Flower Gardens. The Green Life reports $5,000 of direct funding each year. However, the site also acknowledges that it costs nearly six figures to run one advertisement in National Geographic. For a drop in the bucket, the oil giant rebrands its image as being concerned with the underwater sanctuary.
BP has run very similar greenwashing campaigns that seek to portray the company as putting forth a significant amount of effort toward alternative energy. Further research on the topic also found that they were only focusing a small percentage on alternatives, when the majority of their focus proved to be on oil.
If Shell really wanted to protect the area, it wouldn’t be drilling at all. When looking at the real facts of this company, it has no right to run advertisements that it is truly working to save the area that should be protected as a gold mine of beautiful species and ecosystems.
Every time that Shell drills again near the area, they are taking the risk that an event like the Deepwater Horizon spill could happen again. It’s a risk, and it severely outweighs any kind of protection that their $5,000 might provide. It’s a risk that can have serious consequences, and it’s a risk that forbids Shell from being called a truly green company or caring about the environment. It’s a risk that that completely undermines their pretty, full-page color advertisement and smoothly written paragraph that fakes sensitivity.
The company’s greenwashing actions seem even more intense when considering that Shell is currently moving forward with plans to drill off the Arctic coast of Alaska, even in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.
Should the oil from the current spill begin to effect the Flower Gardens Sanctuary, it will forever alter the status of what was supposed to be a protected place. However, it should be noted that as long as drilling by companies like BP, Shell, and others, still occurs, the threat will always be there.
It’s true, we do need more gardeners in the world. But not if they have the same green thumb that Shell does.
Someone should tell that company that oil isn’t good for any garden.
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.