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.
As the Rainforest Action Network points out in its new "Greenwash of the Week" video, Chevron is up to more PR spin.
We've known for a while that Chevron's green spin far outweighed its green spending, and it looks like Chevron's greenwash is getting worse as it's actual investments in alternative energy decrease. Brianna and Nick give the details:
This week’s episode explores Chevron’s recent solar announcement. Chevron, the 4th largest oil corporation on the planet, announced “Project Brightfield”, a solar panel beauty pageant in California’s central valley.
Why has Greenwash of the Week nicknamed ‘Project Brightfield’ Project Bull$#!^?
The energy produced from ‘Project Brightfield’ goes directly to power Chevron’s Kern River Heavy Oil Extraction Facility. Meaning it is one of the most expensive, polluting, and energy intensive type of oil extraction out there.
And, Chevron’s operations there have gifted the residents of Bakersfield with some of the highest air pollution rates in the country.
Powering one of the dirtiest oil facilities with solar DOES NOT make it clean.
And there’s more!
To put Chevrons project into context. “Clean energy” accounts for less than 2% of the multi-billion dollar oil giant’s budget. And that figure is dropping every year.
So, Chevron invests over 98% in oil, coal, tar sands, offshore drilling. Yet, we don’t see big PR blitzes about those dirty projects. Chevron uses small efforts like Project Brightfield to deceive the public into believing they are a different kind of “human energy” company, when in fact they are the same old dirty oil company they’ve always been.
For more, visit Change Chevron.
When we launched Polluterharmony, we wanted to be sure that the new online dating service for polluters, lobbyists, and politicians reached those who need it most; all those lonely legislators looking for their very own match. What better way to reach them than Politico.com?
As it turned out, Polluterharmony has been a hit, quickly becoming the #1 matchmaking site for polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians! It's great that more public officials have had a chance to learn about this exciting new service, but we want to be sure that it's not just other Senators that know about Senator Murkowski's close relationship with polluter lobbyists. Her constituents deserve to know too! So to help get the word out, this week we launched ads on NBC affiliates in Alaska.
And the video is also getting attention on Capitol Hill, as Anne Mulkerne reports in her NYTimes/Greenwire article:
Greenpeace and Sen. Lisa Murkowski's office are in a battle of words over her effort to block U.S. EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.
An aide to the Alaska Republican condemned Greenpeace yesterday after PolluterWatch, a project of the environmental group, launched a Web site called PolluterHarmony.com, a take-off on the matchmaking site eHarmony.com.
"If she objects to the scrutiny her conduct has received, she should consider putting her constituents ahead of Washington lobbyists," Davies said. "Until then, we will continue to hold her accountable for her close ties to influence peddlers like Jeffrey Holmstead."
News reports earlier this year revealed that Holmstead, an industry lawyer who served in the George W. Bush administration, advised Murkowski's office on a failed amendment last year to block EPA regulations. Environmentalists have pointed to Holmstead's involvement as a signal that Murkowski is working on behalf of industry interests, but the Alaska senator has said her staff consulted a variety of outside experts, including environmentalists and Republican and Democratic lawmakers, when drafting that amendment.It's great that more public officials and lobbyists for coal and oil companies might now get a chance to learn about Polluterharmony, so they too might find a match made in Washington. Happy Valentines Weekend!
Kert Davies, Greenpeace Research Director and the Director of our Polluterwatch project, sent a letter today calling on Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) to come clean about his post Senate plans. Senator Dorgan announced earlier this month that he would be retiring from the Senate at the end of the year, and that afterward he would like to "work on energy policy in the private sector."
As Davies writes in the letter;
As a longtime member of Congress I am sure you are aware that, regardless of your actual intentions, this language is often code for legislators who have begun trolling for an influence peddling job after they leave Congress. And, the path from public servant to influence peddler is a sadly well-worn one: Rep. Bob Livingston, Senator John Breaux, Rep. Billy Tauzin, and Senator Trent Lott.
I recall seeing you as a speaker at the oil industry’s controversial, pay-to-play forum on December 1st, just five weeks before you announced your retirement. As you will recall, this highly questionable exercise was one in which Newsweek was caught renting out its name, credibility and top pundit to big oil’s influence peddler, Jack Gerard. We were able to document Mr. Gerard’s unwillingness to answer basic questions about the purchase price of Newsweek’s credibility, and you can see the results at youtube.com/polluterwatch.
Indeed, Senator Dorgan was the lone senator appearing beside American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard at the API sponsored Newsweek "Energy Forum," as shown in the photo below from that event. Greenpeace called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate the Big Oil sponsored panel held inside the US capitol.
Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) appears with American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard at the API sponsored Newsweek "Energy Forum"
Greenpeace is calling on Senator Dorgan to:
You can read the full text of the letter to Senator Dorgan here.
Though shell has been punished twice in recent years for greenwashing in the British media (here and here), the company seems to have little concern about greenwashing in American media. Check out the ad it has been running frequently in all the most influential papers and magazines, including the Economist and Washington Post on a regular basis.
You would think that Shell would learn from mistakes in the past. Last year, Shell was told to stop using the ad to the right in the UK. The text says:
“... we need to find new ways of managing carbon emissions to limit climate change. Continued investment in technology is one of the key ways we are able to address this challenge, and continue to secure a profitable and sustainable future.
“The challenge of the 21st century is to meet the growing need for energy in ways that are not only profitable but sustainable... In Canada we're harnessing our global network of technical and financial expertise to unlock the potential of the vast Canadian oil sands deposit. In the USA we're helping to build what will be the nation's largest refinery.”
“We noted that the large scale of the oil sands developments had considerable social and environmental impacts, including those on water conservation, greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), land disturbance and waste management.
"Because we had not seen data that showed how Shell was effectively managing carbon emissions from its oil sands projects in order to limit climate change, we concluded that on this point the ad was misleading.”
The ASA concluded that the ad must not appear again in its current form.
But despite this lesson, Shell apparently has no qualms about making similar misleading claims in the US, for example the “less CO2” claim depicted above.
Shell also has no problem contributing funding to a large-scale anti-climate legislation campaign being run by the American Petroleum Institute. That campaign was not only caught astroturfing, but also uses scare tactics and misleading, biased information to make the public and policy makers believe that climate legislation would kill jobs or drastically rise gas prices. For example, the API ad below is featured in many of the same media outlets as Shell greenwash ads.
As you might have noticed, Newsweek ran a special issue this week with the cover story, "The Greenest Big Companies in America." The feature ranks the S&P 500 according to each company's environmental impact, policies and reputation. Dirt Diggers Digest points out that the list "has more validity than the usual exercises of this sort, which tend to take much of corporate greenwash at face value." But also notes "the magazine could have easily turned the list upside down and headlined its feature 'The Biggest Environmental Culprits of Corporate America'."The web version of the Newsweek issue has a nice sidebar dedicated specifically to greenwash, which includes these snipits:
"Many corporations ... don't do much of anything to change the way they do business, but make a big show of their dedication to Mother Earth. It's usually easy to spot these companies: They make their customers do the work, and then take the credit. In the name of saving the planet, my cable TV operator keeps asking for permission to stop sending paper statements in the mail each month. Instead, I'm supposed to check my statement online. The real reason, of course, is that doing so would save them paper, printing and postage. This is a perfectly legitimate reason for them to want me to switch. But when they pretend that it's all about the environment, it just makes me hate my cable company even more than I already do. Despite this, I would still consider switching to online statements if they would agree to use the money they save to hire cable TV repairmen who know how to repair cable TV."
"Sometimes a good ad campaign does a better job of enhancing a company's green reputation than going through the expense and hassle of adopting actual environmentally sound practices. Billboards in Washington implore me to join the cause. "I will unplug stuff more," reads one. Another says, "I will at least consider buying a hybrid." These ads are the work of Chevron, the giant oil company, whose "Will You Join Us?" ads try to convince people that saving the planet is at the top of their list. You might think that if Chevron was really worried about problems like global warming, they would spend some of those p.r. dollars lobbying Congress to adopt stricter gas mileage requirements for automobiles. They do not do this. Instead, I'm apparently supposed to praise them as environmental heroes because they tell me to unplug my toaster and think about getting a Prius. Yet ad campaigns like these work. Chevron lands at No. 371 out of 500 companies on Newsweek's green rankings."
Sorry, folks, the Supreme Court must have been wrong about CO2 being an air pollutant. I stumbled upon the Truth in the form of this half-page ad in Monday’s Washington Post:
Not only is there no scientific evidence that CO2 is a pollutant, higher CO2 concentrations actually help ecosystems support more plant and animal life… Higher levels of CO2 result in more plant growth as well as less water being required for plants to grow faster and larger. In fact, we all exhale CO2 and enjoy it in our carbonated beverages.
This blows my mind. I don’t even know how to categorize this latest piece of big-oil-funded misdirection. Junk science? Botany for third graders? Blatant untruthiness?
CO2isgreen, Inc., the non-profit “with questionable parentage” that funded the ad, has already been called out twice in the blogosphere - once by Grist.org and again by Scienceblogs.com. Miles Grant correctly points out H. Leighton Steward’s position as an honorary director at the American Petroleum Institute, recently in the news for staging astroturf campaigns, as well as his connection to numerous big oil companies:
He’s also a director at EOG Resources, an oil and gas company, a position in which he earned a whopping $617,151 last year. Steward is formerly head of Burlington Resources, now a part of ConocoPhillips) and former Chairman of the U.S. Oil and Gas Association and the Natural Gas Supply Association. Not a word about any of that in his bio on the site.
The one connection that Grant missed is that Steward is currently Chairman of the Board of The Institute for the Study of Earth and Man at SMU, which has received $76,500 since 1998 from everybody’s favorite greenhouse gangster, ExxonMobil.
James Hrynyshyn paints a softer picture of Steward after talking to him on the phone, describing him as “earnest,” and insisting:
…he's not a dupe of Big Oil trying to pull the wool over our eyes. At least, not consciously… He simply doesn’t doesn't accept the mountains of evidence that carbon dioxide is a significant greenhouse gas, and that small changes in its atmospheric concentration can have a big impact on climate.Forgive my cynicism, but if it looks like big oil, works for big oil and gets paid by big oil, then it must be an earnest Joe with a penchant for taking out half-page ads in major news publications.
Almost half of all the carbon dioxide emitted since industrialization has been absorbed by the ocean. [Acidification] deprives animals like hard corals and certain mollusks and plankton of the raw material for their calcium carbonate shells and skeletons. This may ultimately cause the world’s oceans to become corrosive to such animals, and coral reefs to dissolve.The science of our carbon burden is clear. What is unclear is whether world leaders gathered in New York for a UN summit on climate change can be convinced to act in the interest of the many and the future rather than the few and the now.
Used to describe the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.