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Greenhouse Market Mania

The Climate Greenwash Vanguard: Shell and BPAmoco [102]

Shell and BP Amoco, both formerly ardent critics of global warming theory, have shifted their strategies dramatically. These masters of climate greenwash have undergone expensive corporate makeovers and now present themselves as leaders in reducing CO2 emissions and supporting renewable energy. Their goal is to prevent public opinion from turning against them, as happened numerous times in the past decade. [103]

Moreover, by giving the impression that they can solve the climate threat themselves, they aim to avoid government regulation and, more generally, any public debate about the desirability of corporate-led globalisation. In this regard, the two oil giants are seeking to completely transform their image from oil companies with flawed environmental and social records, to 'energy companies' committed to taking action to combat climate change, without having to dramatically change their behaviour. The PR company Burson-Marsteller, an expert in 'reputation management', argues that "corporate reputation has a direct impact on a company's ability to achieve policy-related goals." [104]

These two 'energy companies' employ a highly sophisticated PR strategy to convince the public that they have changed. Expensive TV and newspaper advertisements portraying an environmentally-friendly image are at the heart of this strategy. In many cases, small-scale environmental projects which the companies fund are used to justify the green credentials of the corporation as a whole - projects which often cost less than the advertisements used to showcase them to the general public. [105] While highlighting these environmentally-friendly activities, the ads are silent about the companies' destructive core business practices. Both Shell and BP Amoco continue to increase oil production year after year and have no intention of changing that in the next decades.

Double Standards

The hypocrisy of these two mega-corporations is underlined by the fact that both remain members of lobby groups such as the American Petroleum Institute and the Business Roundtable, which vehemently oppose the ratification of the Kyoto Protocol and any binding commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In August of this year, it was revealed that BP Amoco has contributed money in the last four years to most of the members of the US Congress who have consistently voted against environmental policies, including opposing US ratification of the Kyoto Protocol. [106]

Shell: Greenwash Giant

From being one of the most despised companies in the world just a few years ago, Shell, aided by a massive advertising budget and specialised PR companies, has managed to reshape its image into an environmentally and socially enlightened company. Shell's support for the South African apartheid regime and its well-documented involvement in human rights violations in the Niger Delta, to mention just two examples, seem to have been largely forgotten by the mainstream media. The company's 'Profits and Principles' ad series stretched the boundaries of corporate greenwash to further extremes. TV spots, newspaper ads and a glossy report all claimed that profits and principles need not be contradictory goals, but can be part of any company's 'win-win' approach. Meanwhile, Shell continues to be responsible for appalling living conditions in Nigeria's Ogoniland. [107]

Stating its concerns about climate change, the company has announced new investments in renewable energy worth US$500 million in the next years. While a seemingly large sum, in actuality it amounts to less than 1 per cent of Shell's annual expenditures. In fact, the company's annual investments in renewable energy are not much larger than the advertising budget used to improve its tarnished image. In 1998, for instance, Shell spent US$30 million on contracts with PR company Fishburn & Hedges alone. The assistance of this one company in Shell's image transformation was equivalent to 30 per cent of the oil behemoth's annual spending on renewable energy. [108]

Shell proudly announced that it will reduce its own greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent from 1990 levels by 2002, "twice the Kyoto target, five years sooner." [109] The company aims to do so through the development and application of clean technologies and improved refining processes leading to slightly cleaner fuels. The fact that the ever-increasing volumes of oil and gas that the company brings to the market are the key cause of the climate change crisis seems is largely ignored.

BP Amoco: 'Beyond Petroleum' or 'Boiling the Planet'?

The PR campaign of oil giant BP Amoco, in which its seeks to re-style itself as an 'energy company' committed to sustainable development, has been described as "perhaps the most ambitious ever undertaken by a British company." [110] In 1999, the company publicly acknowledged that climate change is happening and that greenhouse gas emissions play a role in that process. It announced investments in solar energy and a plan to reduce emissions from it oil drilling, pipelines and refineries. BP Amoco now presents itself as "the worlds leading producer of solar power" and the producer of "petrol and diesel that produce lower emissions." [111] The company has announced that it will install solar panels in 200 of its petrol stations as part of its 'Plug in the Sun' programme. BP's advertising campaign, replete with a new 'helios' logo on a green background and the 'Beyond Petroleum' slogan, will cost the company some US$100 million per year - close to what it is actually spending on solar power.

The unsettling reality behind BP Amoco's PR campaign is that the company is still increasing oil exploration and production operations. BP Amoco is moving in to exploit some of the world's most sensitive ecological areas, like the Atlantic Frontier (the North Atlantic sea west of the Shetlands) and the even more sensitive Arctic Ocean (North of Alaska), areas both hitherto undisturbed by the oil industry. [112] BP Amoco's investment in renewable energy is less than 1 per cent of its annual spending on fossil fuels. The company expects its oil production to increase 4 to 5 per cent per year, and its gas output is expected to rise no less than fivefold 2002. [113] Investment in fossil fuel exploration and production is expected to double to a level of US$8 billion per year. Contrary to the rhetoric, fossil fuels remain BP Amoco's core business, suggesting that its slogans are nothing more than window dressing.

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