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Category — Business strategy and messaging

BP Fools the “Socially Responsible” Investors (‘Green’ Enron did too)

“The BP incident highlights big differences in how socially responsible funds prioritize various causes. Some of these managers considered BP’s stance on climate change a strong positive. ‘BP was the first to break the logjam on climate change policy’ and had been a leader on alternative energy, says Mark Regier, director of stewardship investing for MMA Praxis.”

- Quoted in Eleanor Laise, “Oops: ‘Socially Responsible’ Funds Hold Big Stakes of BP,” Wall Street Journal, July 17–18, 2010.

The greenwashing strategy of BP and Enron has been the subject of three recent posts at MasterResource:

They Loved BP and Enron: Climate Alarmism as the Great Environmental Distraction (Part I: Worldwatch Institute quotations)

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’: Climate Alarmism as the Great Environmental Distraction (Part II: Why the ‘greenwashing’?)

Harvard Business Review Article: BP as Environmental Role Model (Part III on global warming as the great environmental distraction)

Don’t believe that “Beyond Petroleum” BP fooled the politically correct after Enron and even all the way up to the Deepwater  Horizon explosion/Gulf spill of May 2010? Then consider the Wall Street Journal’s “Oops: ‘Socially Responsible’ Funds Hold Big Stakes of BP” (reprinted below as Appendix A). [Read more →]

July 20, 2010   3 Comments

Harvard Business Review Article: BP as Environmental Role Model (Part III on global warming as the great environmental distraction)

[Editor note: Part I in this series reviewed the praise for BP and Enron from the Worldwatch Institute. Part II delved into the reasons that BP tried to rebrand itself as "beyond petroleum."]

“Such [progressive] leadership [on climate change] may give BP Amoco better access to government-controlled oil deposits and more operating flexibility.”

- Kimberly O’Neill Packard and Forest Reinhardt, “What Every Executive Needs to Know About Global Warming,” Harvard Business Review, July/August 2000.

The Worldwatch Institute sang the praises of BP’s it’s-a-problem, we-can-solve-it approach to climate change. Far Left environmentalist Joe Romm featured John Browne/BP in his book Cool Companies as a leading example of corporations going green for profits and virtue.

Both Worldwatch and Romm were wrong–dead wrong–about BP, just as they were also wrong about climate-alarmist Enron and Ken Lay.

It turns out that a lot of political profit-making and greenwashing was going on at both rogue companies. Remember what Jeff Skilling told one of Enron’s coal executives who complained that the company’s greenwashing was hurting his division:

“We are a green company, but the green stands for money.” [Read more →]

July 1, 2010   7 Comments

BP’s ‘Beyond Petroleum’: Climate Alarmism as the Great Environmental Distraction (Part II: Why the ‘greenwashing’?)

[Editor note: Part I in this series examined praise for BP and Enron from the Worldwatch Institute. Part III examines a Harvard Business Review article linking BP's 'beyond petroleum' strategy to special government favor, including drilling on government domain.]

Consumer boycotts of Shell and pressure from Greenpeace … [and] speculation that Shell might shift its position on climate change led BP CEO John Browne to look more closely at climate change. He decided to set a new company policy that would set BP apart from the competition—the product differentiation strategy.

- Gary Gardner, “Accelerating the Shift to Sustainability.” In Worldwatch Institute, State of the World 2001 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2001), p. 101.

With great big blobs of oil washing up on the shore, it is almost comical—no, it is comical—to see some of BP’s erstwhile friends in academia and other centers of high-minded thought running for cover. To cite one example, thanks to BP sponsorship, 300 researchers in white lab coats at Berkeley are busily searching for ways to make green fuels that will reduce our dependence on oil. In 2007, BP set up the Energy Biosciences Institute, saying it would spend $500 million over the next ten years to support research into plant-based fuels at Berkeley and two other universities. This is the largest corporate donation ever for university research.

- Andrew Wilson, “Beyond Pathetic.” The Weekly Standard, June 28, 2010.

For more than a decade, Left environmentalists and trendy business ethicists have touted BP’s “beyond petroleum” mantra as an example of public-interested corporate progressivism.

For example, Joe Romm in Cool Companies: How the Best Businesses Boost Profits and Productivity by Cutting Greenhouse Gas Emissions (Island Press: 1999) devotes several pages near the end of the book to “climate leadership at British Petroleum.”

Romm refers to John Browne’s “remarkable May 1997 speech at Stanford University” (p. 206) before describing this episode:

Browne noted in a February 1998 speech that immediately after the Kyoto conference, he wrote to all 350 leaders within the BP group, the people who run BP’s business units, to get their ideas on how BP could reduce carbon emissions. Browne said, “Two weeks ago I got the response and I was stunned by it. It consisted of 200 pages of the most detailed and serious proposals…. Every single one reflected the view that we were doing the right thing in trying to tackle our own emissions and to make a positive constructive contribution to the public debate” (p. 207).

Romm continues: “One of the primary messages of this book  [is what] Browne has learned… ‘It is clear how frequently environmental logic and commercial logic coincide” (p. 207).

BP’s Misdirection

But now we know what happens when a corporation gets distracted and tries to be all things to all people. It happened to Ken Lay and Enron, and it happened to BP.

Tony Hayward cut back BP’s renewables push, which put pressure on the company’s ‘beyond petroleum’ greenwash. But evidently Hayward did not or could not do enough to reverse the unfocused corporate culture toward safety and true environmentalism. [Read more →]

June 29, 2010   2 Comments

They Loved BP and Enron: Climate Alarmism as the Great Environmental Distraction (Part I: Worldwatch Institute quotations)

[Editor note: Part II in this three-part series delves into the reasons that BP tried to rebrand itself as "beyond petroleum." Part III examines a Harvard Business Review article linking BP's 'beyond petroleum' strategy to special government favor, including drilling on government domain.]

“A growing number of corporations are moving beyond denial to acceptance and action on climate change, some seeking competitive advantage by anticipating rather than responding to future policy changes.”

- Seth Dunn and Christopher Flavin, “Moving the Climate Change Agenda Forward.” In State of the World 2002 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2002), p. 25.

Just imagine if John Browne had used the time and resources BP spent on climate alarmism and ‘beyond petroleum’ on real safety and environmental issues.

BP might still have a capitalization of $150 billion and not face a potential worst-case scenario of bankruptcy and ruin. And more importantly, the U.S. Gulf would not be in an environmental crisis.

Just imagine if Enron’s Ken Lay had used the time and resources spent on climate alarmism and forced energy transformation on accounting, risk control, and the real things that promote business sustainability. (Lay was a big Christopher Flavin/Worldwatch fan too.)

Enron might still be with us today.

Diverted management attention has an opportunity cost. Left environmentalists lobbied and praised BP and Enron for putting form over substance. A few shouted ‘greenwashing’, but most applauded their coveted split within the fossil-fuel industry on climate and energy.

Enron is no longer around. Instead it has become the poster child of political capitalism run amuck. And the Deepwater Horizon accident–for which, in an effort to save about $5 million, BP will pay tens of billions of dollars–may sink BP as an independent company.

What an irony: fake environmentalism driving out real environmentalism. Climate and energy reality, anyone?

A sampling of quotations from the mainstream Left Worldwatch Institute praising BP, Enron, or both follows. [Read more →]

June 28, 2010   10 Comments

DOE Secretary Chu’s Convoluted Climate Economics

Last week, at the first Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing on S. 1733, the Kerry-Boxer “Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act,” Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu explained the economic rationale for adopting a Kyoto-style cap-and-trade program.

His argument, in a nutshell, goes like this:

  1. Reducing emissions globally will require a massive investment in “clean technologies” — an estimated $2.1 trillion in wind turbines and $1.5 trillion in solar voltaic panels by 2030. These investments will create many green jobs.
  2. “The only question is — which countries will invent, manufacture, and export these clean technologies and which will become dependent on foreign products.”
  3. The United States is falling behind. “The world’s largest turbine manufacturing company is headquartered in Denmark. 99 percent of the batteries that power America’s hybrid cars are made in Japan. We manufactured more than 40 percent of the world’s solar cells as recently as the mid-1990s; today we produce just 7 percent.”
  4. To seize the opportunity of clean tech and keep from falling farther behind, “we must enact comprehensive climate legislation,” the most important element of which is a “cap on carbon emissions that ratchets down over time. That critical step will drive investment decisions towards clean energy.”

There is so much silliness packed into Chu’s testimony that it’s hard to know where to begin. [Read more →]

November 5, 2009   8 Comments

Energy Reality Wins at Exxon Mobil Annual Meeting (Atlas is not shrugging at this substance-over-form company)

If only the United States economy were as strong as ExxonMobil. If only energy realism and free-market consumer service were guiding lights in Austin, Texas; Washington, D.C.; and other seats of political power.

The good news from Exxon Mobil’s annual stockholders meeting in Dallas earlier this week is that the company is focused on its core competencies amid the energy politicization around it. No Enron political machinations here!

In fact, Exxon Mobil is the anti-Enron of corporate America, a rebuff to Ken Lay, who once worked at Exxon, and Jeff Skilling, who declared in 2000: “You will see the collapse and demise of the integrated energy companies around the world. They are going to break up into thousands and thousands of pieces.” (1)

Key Messages

The key messages of Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson were: 

  1. Petroleum as a primary energy source is the future, not only the recent past. (Comment: renewable energies once had a 100% market share, corresponding to mankind’s energy poverty era.)
  2. Developing politically dependent renewable energies such as wind and solar are not the company’s forte. (Comment: Exxon Mobil is implicitly practicing Principled Entrepreneurship ™, a socially responsible business model.)
  3. If carbon dioxide is to be priced, a tax is preferable to cap-and-trade. (Comment: Tillerson has not come out in favor of pricing CO2 per se, to my knowledge, and most economists would pick the same of the two options.) 
  4. Win-win emission reduction technologies and strategies are better than politically correct/economically incorrect ones. (Comment: the jury is still out on this, of course, but it will be interesting to see how Exxon Mobil’s R&D bets turn out relative to those of the other energy majors.) [Read more →]

May 30, 2009   6 Comments

Getting Real: The Oil Majors Move Away from Political Energy (Government-dependent wind, solar are not ready for prime time)

A recent article in the New York Times, “Not So Green After All: Alternative Fuel Still a Dalliance for Oil Giants,” chronicled the move away from politically correct (but economically incorrect) wind and solar energy by the oil majors.

Royal Dutch Shell and BP, in particular, recognize wind and solar as what they are: dilute, intermittent energies that are not consumer friendly or economic. And their investment returns in the same have been lackluster. Shell and BP have found out what Exxon Mobil learned in the 1970s.

“Oil giants worldwide are skeptical that President Barack Obama’s plans to move the economy away from petroleum will be successful,” Jad Mouawad wrote in the Times. “Many of the oil companies are sticking to their hydrocarbon business model and some are backing away from commitments to renewable power.”

Mouawad summarizes the thinking from these three majors: [Read more →]

April 9, 2009   5 Comments

CO2 Regulation under the Clean Air Act: Economic Train Wreck, Constitutional Crisis, Legislative Thuggery

Call it an economic train wreck, a constitutional crisis, or legslative thuggery. Litigation-driven regulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) under the Clean Air Act (CAA) is all of the above.

The Supreme Court case of Massachusetts v. EPA  (April 2, 2007) has set the stage for a policy disaster. Mass v. EPA’s second anniversary rapidly approaches, and in a Power Point presentation leaked to Greenwire last week, EPA reveals how it plans to respond to the Court. But first, some background on the case and the Pandora’s Box it has created. [Read more →]

March 19, 2009   23 Comments

ExxonMobil's Tillerson on Renewable Energy: Realism amid Politics

As reported by Russell Gold at Environmental Capital, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson has made an incisive new argument against his company’s investing in government-dependent renewable energy.

“If I wanted to kill [tax subsidies], the thing to do is for Exxon Mobil to go and invest heavily in them and then Congress would immediately cancel the tax subsidy. Actually what they would do is they would just cancel it for us,” said Mr.Tillerson, during the annual analyst meeting at the New York Stock Exchange.

He added: “In reality, that is what I fear would happen. So we are not going to go into investments that are dependent on a government providing a tax system to make them viable.”

This is very interesting. Former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond and now Tillerson have argued against investing in politically dependent renewables because they have been-there-done-that, with investor losses in the 1970s. And looking at the present and future technology of wind and solar relative to what ExxonMobil can realistically add, they are not sanguine about going forward in the same area.

But Tillerson is now saying something new: [Read more →]

March 7, 2009   11 Comments

Exxon Laughs all the Way to the Bank

This summer, we had the entertaining spectacle of scions of the Rockefeller family joining with environmental activists such as Greenpeace to urge a change in ExxonMobil’s corporate governance, including redirecting their investment towards green technologies.  Part of their argument was that research ‘proved’ that the world would need these new techologies and that they would be economically viable soon.

[Read more →]

January 20, 2009   2 Comments