Hands up who thinks BP’s public image has been improved as a result of pumping upwards of half a million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, ravaging eco-systems, depriving fishermen of their livelihoods, incurring the pantomime wrath of President Obama and the undying hatred of half America?
Hmm. That’s not many hands.
But I suspect your crowd wisdom is quite right here. BP has spent the last decade rebranding itself as Beyond Petroleum in order to make out that it doesn’t do anything so disgusting and immoral as plundering Mother Gaia of her dwindling supplies of precious black blood. Yet I doubt all that strenuous greenwashing has been enough to offset the damage done by even a single one of those photographs of ickle pelicans smeared in oily gunk.
As Patrick Hayes argues in a brilliant article at Spiked, this is not the fault of BP’s beleaguered CEO Tony Hayward, but of his fantastically wrong-headed predecessor Lord Browne of Madingley.
Under Browne’s stewardship, BP became the first multinational oil company to accept a causal relationship between increased carbon emissions and global warming. In 2005 it famously developed a carbon footprint calculator for use on its website. According to Mathis Wackernagel, executive director of the Global Footprint Network, the media campaigns around BP’s calculator played an important part in establishing the notion of a ‘carbon footprint’ in popular consciousness.
As a result, BP, the world’s second-largest oil company, came to rank high on a wide range of the ‘key performance indicators’ so beloved by companies. It was lavished with awards, including a gold ‘Effie’ at the American Marketing Association awards. Brand research revealed that BP was seen as the most environmental oil brand, and BP’s brand awareness rose from four per cent in 2000 to 67 per cent in 2007. It has been claimed that the rebranding generated considerable increases in sales for BP. In 2007, Business Week speculated whether the AA risk rating awarded to BP by credit agency Innovest was a result of its commitment to invest $8billion in renewables.
Funny to remember how Browne was revered in so many profiles of the era as the kind of modern, touchy-feely, visionary boss all go-ahead companies should emulate. What we can now recognise is that Browne did about as much for BP’s unfortunate shareholders as Kenneth Lay did for Enron’s.
Had BP spent a fraction of the budget it has dedicated to greenwashing (its 2001 rebranding alone cost $200 million; it has squandered further millions on solar and wind power) on doing the job its supposed to do – ie drilling for oil as safely and efficiently as is reasonably possible in so risky business; definitely not cutting corners – the Gulf Oil disaster would almost certainly have never happened. Exxon gets a lot of stick from the green movement. But its safety procedures are much more stringent than BPs.
And while we’re on the subject of the warped, self-destructive tactics of eco-zealots, lets not forget the disastrous role America’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has played in all this. Thanks to the EPA’s bizarre sense of ecological priorities, the US government initially turned down an offer from the Dutch to provide 4 oil skimmers capable of scooping up 146,000 barrels of spilt oil per day.
The Dutch offered to fly their skimmer arm systems to the Gulf 3 days after the oil spill started. The offer was apparently turned down because EPA regulations do not allow water with oil to be pumped back into the ocean. If all the oily water was retained in the tanker, the capacity of the system would be greatly diminished because most of what is pumped into the tanker is sea water.
This crazy decision has since been rescinded. But as I’ve argued before, for Obama and his eco-fascist chums in the global green movement, the more damage this disaster is allowed to do to the image of Big Oil and Big Carbon the better. For them this crisis isn’t a disaster at all. It’s the opportunity of a lifetime.