BP Goes Green Again.

BP is at it again. Whether it is completely coincidental that we have had the Montreal meeting, the melting Arctic, extreme weather and extreme profits of the oil companies, but BP is in the middle of an unprecedented greenwashing campaign, trying to persuade the public, politicians and who ever else is listening that they are a green energy company.
Using the “Beyond Petroleum” logo, the oil company has been advertising on three consecutive pages of national Sunday newspapers in the UK now for a number of weeks. The Ads say: “365 days a year – alternativeenergy – powered by BP”. They go on to tell the reader how much BP is investing in renewables.

Elsewhere on television and online the company is running adverts on “carbon footprints”. For weeks the website of the the British newspaper, the Independent, that editorially sees itself as being the most progressive on climate change, has seemed like nothing more than a free BP advertising service.

This has angered those who monitor the press. The organisation, Medialens that tracks the media in the UK issued an “Action Alert” alert last week, highlighting the hypocrisy of BP’s advertising.

“BP’s claim to be moving beyond petroleum is a sham” reported Medialens. “James Marriott of the environmental social justice group, Platform told us that BP investments in renewable energy – such as solar and wind power – currently constitute around 2 per cent of the company’s total investments. Marriott comments:

“The amount of capital being put into renewables is minute. So they +are+ going ‘beyond petroleum’, but at this rate it will take several hundred years.”

“Beyond Petroleum” is part of a cynical strategy targeting what the public relations industry calls “special publics”. Advertising is specifically focused on the Independent, the Guardian, the Observer, the Financial Times, Prospect magazine, Channel 4 News and the New Statesman. Marriott explains:

“The campaign is targeting the liberal intelligentsia. It’s not focused on drivers on the forecourts – it’s focused on changing the opinions of opinion formers. The idea is to bring them on side, to drive a wedge between them and people they perceive as intractable opponents. Shell has used the same tactic with considerable success.”

Shell pioneered the greenwashing process, especially after being accused of being complicit in human rights abuses in the Niger Delta and in Ken Saro-Wiwa’s death and for attempting to dump the Brent Spar oil storage platform into the Atlantic.

Same Old Tricks

    Two other classic PR tactics long used by the oil industry and its cronies are the formation of corporate front groups to deny climate change and the funding of right-wing think tanks that also do their utmost to undermine action on the issue and to discredit the scientific consensus on climate change.

    In the first instance, an organization is set up that sounds like it is a progressive think tank or coalition working to protect the climate, whereas in fact it is the complete opposite: an industry funded organisation that is out to scupper or derail any action on climate.

    In the nineties when climate change moved up firstly the scientific and then the political agenda, the fossil fuel industry responded by forming the Global Climate Coalition, the Climate Council and the International Climate Change Partnership. They all sounded like progressive organizations but they were anything but.

    A give away for some of the corporate front groups is the use of the word “sound” in the title that mirrors the use of the words “sound science” by right-wing think tanks that try and promote their agenda.

    For example, there was a front organization called Citizens for a Sound Economy that promoted deregulation in the US. Another front group was set up by Philip Morris to attack the science of ETS (environmental tobacco smoke – second hand smoke) was the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC). It was run by the PR firm APCO Worldwide. For more on front groups click here
    Created in 1993, TASSC began as a front for Philip Morris which was attempting to discredit ETS (Environmental Tobacco Smoke) research. When Philip Morris wanted to replicate TASSC in Europe, working with the global PR company Burson Marsteller, they tentatively came up with the name Scientists for Sound Public Policy. Although Scientists for Sound Public Policy never materialized, the outcome was the formation of the front organisation European Science and Environment Forum (ESEF) that was formed in 1996

    By this stage, as the science on climate hardened and the evidence accumulated, it became increasingly untenable for some oil companies to remain members of some of the climate front groups. So in the late nineties first BP and then Shell pulled out of the Global Climate Coalition.

    Not so Exxon that has continued to try and scupper action on climate change by funding a network of right-wing think tanks in the US, and Europe.

    One of these is the Competitive Enterprise Institute that has received over $1 million from Exxon in recent years. A senior fellow at the CEI is Chris Horner, who is also counsel to the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of right-wing think tanks and Wise Use organizations that has come together to undermine action on climate change.

    For the last year or so Horner has been working with the European Enterprise Institute in Brussels.

    Leaked documents show during the summer Horner gave a presentation to the German utility company RWE proposing the setting up of a front organization to work on climate. And guess what the name is? Yes, you have guessed it the “European Sound Climate Policy Coalition.” That really means the European Coalition of Big Business out to Stop Action on Climate.

    The presentation noted that “RWE – together with other interested companies – should initiate the described coalition approach” in order to “balance pressure groups”. Other companies who had indicated their interest included Exxon (of course), Ford, Lufthansa, Endesa and Vattenfall. This coalition would be run by a “seasoned” public affairs firm or an enthusiastic individual with particular experience”.

    So here was an Exxon funded attorney proposing a front organization that would include Exxon and run by a PR company to undermine action on climate at the EU. Luckily this front organization never materialized, but just wait and see if other dubious sounding organizations appear in 2006….

    Watch this space.