Greenwashing with an Oily Sheen

On the front page of today’s Washington Post business section, Recasting Big Oil’s Batter Image was subtitled “Ads by Chevron and Others Aim to Send Positive Messages”.  Whether “Beyond Petroleum” or Exxon Mobil telling us how to be more fuel efficient drivers, greenwashing efforts from the fossil fuel industry are fast and furiously growing in the face of Global Warming and potential legislative responses.  This article addresses some of these efforts, sparked by a coming $10s of millions Chevron will be spending on educational ads in the near future.

Oil companies are one of the few parts of American society competing with George W Bush for unfavorability ratings.

A poll of 1,500 adults … in August found that 45 percent had “very unfavorable” and another 21 percent “somewhat unfavorable” views of oil companies.

That is an unfavorability rating that would give any politician — or business executive — some anxiety.

The Chevron ads, in general, seek to make the case that oil is here to stay. That there are not real choices to get off oil. (Let me say, Energize America and others can provide a different, honest discussion of this.)

Now, Chevron would point out that there is a great deal of misinformation about energy in American society (and by American leadership). That is, well, simply true.  They would argue, I think, that they are simply seeking to educate. 

the need to educate the public was apparent in focus groups.

And, then, well, so educating the public is what Chevron is providing … right?

“What we find a lot now is . . . people go to the idea of renewables. It is hope in a bottle,” Helen Clark, Chevron’s manager of corporate brand and reputation, said. “They feel it will all be okay. And of course this is not really true. Look at any statistics about the next 50 years, and oil is essential.”

Hmmm … is this education or miseducationg with some truthiness?  Now, is anyone sensible saying that oil is not “essential”? Or, that even with aggressive efforts for renewables and efficiency, somehow oil magically disappears from the global economy overnight? No, they aren’t.  Thus, is Clark setting a strawman to make an argument that no one who actually understands energy is making?  Is she (Chevron) confusing the situation through their educational effort?

But, is it really about education?

The long ad talks about using energy “more intelligently” and “more respectfully.” It says “we live on this planet, too” and that Chevron is a company made of people, “not corporate titans,” including pipeline welders and geologists, husbands and wives, liberals and conservatives, part-time poets and coaches.

“The theme is ‘don’t demonize us because, after all, we are just people like you,’ ” said Garfield, the Advertising Age critic. “And I say they are people like me except that their fiduciary responsibility to the shareholders is to . . . gouge me at the pumps.”

The ads could be aiming to boost morale for Chevron employees, he said. “They thought they were working for Satan, and lo and behold, they’re working for UNICEF.”

Working for Chevron is like working for UNICEF. That is one to remember.

In any event, be preapared, Greenwashing with an Oily Sheen is headed to a newspaper stand and television program near you …

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