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BP: Beyond Petroleum or Beyond Preposterous?

by Kenny BrunoSpecial to CorpWatch
December 14th, 2000

British Petroleum's recent ad campaign with the theme of "Beyond Petroleum," led us to think about more appropriate phrases for the company's re-branding: British Petroleum: Beyond Pompous, Beyond Protest, Beyond Pretension, Beyond Preposterous, Beyond Platitudes, Beyond Posturing, Beyond Presumptuous, Beyond Propaganda... Beyond Belief.

BP's Ad ''Beyond Petroleum''
BP's Ad ''Beyond Petroleum''

Recently BP, the world's second largest oil company and one of the world's largest corporations, advertised its new identity as a leader in moving the world "Beyond Petroleum." Such leadership would benefit the world's climate and many of its communities immensely, according to British Petroleum. Sound too good to be true? Let's see.

BP says Beyond Petroleum means "being a global leader in producing the cleanest burning fossil fuel: Natural Gas." It's true that natural gas is not petroleum, but is it true that gas is a radical improvement over oil for our climate? In theory, natural gas emits somewhat less carbon dioxide than oil for the same energy produced. But when fugitive emissions, or leaks, are counted, the difference is slim to none. For the climate, natural gas is at best an incremental improvement over oil, and at worst a distraction from the real challenge of moving our societies away from fossil fuels.

That challenge is what is meant by "moving beyond petroleum" when used by environmental groups. Rainforest Action Network, for example, says their Beyond Oil campaign works to "move our societies out of our devastating dependence on fossil fuels and into renewable energy options..." BP's re-branding as the "Beyond Petroleum" company is perhaps the ultimate co-optation of environmentalists' language and message. Even apart from the twisting of language, BP's suggestion that producing more natural gas is somehow akin to global leadership is preposterous. Make that Beyond Preposterous.

BP's claim to be "the largest producer of solar energy in the world" is a little more serious. But being #1 for BP is so easy. It was achieved by spending $45 million to buy the Solarex solar energy corporation. That's a tiny fraction of the $26.5 billion it spent to buy ARCO in order to increase BP's production capacity for...oil. BP will spend $5 billion over five years for oil exploration in Alaska alone. And, according to one group of BP shareholders, BP spent more on their new eco-friendly logo last year than on renewable energy.

When a company spends more on advertising its environmental friendliness than on environmental actions, that's greenwash.

Speaking of greenwash, BP's Herald Tribune ad (pictured here) is a bizarre classic of the genre. It is difficult to guess what their ad firm was trying to convey with the picture of partially submerged trees. Perhaps its just an unusual nature photo, or perhaps its meant to remind us of the frightening potential for rising sea levels and flooding from global warming. Or perhaps it's a Freudian slip, an unintentional reminder that BP's massive fossil fuel production is responsible for a substantial portion of global carbon emissions, and therefore, climate change.

The ambiguity continues with the copy, "...starting a journey that will take the world's expectations of energy beyond what anyone can see today." Pretentious stuff for a company serving mainly oil and gas, with just a sliver of solar on the side. Make that Beyond Pretentious.


Ad Text

Beyond...

-   means being a global leader in producing the cleanest burning fossil fuel. Natural Gas.

-   means being the first company to introduce cleaner burning fuels to many of the world's most polluted cities.

-   means being the largest producer of solar energy in the world.

-   means starting a journey that will take a world's expectations of energy beyond what anyone can see today.

International Herald Tribune
11/15/2000