Beyond Petroleum? More Like Big Problem

Dare you to name one truly "Treehugging" corporation? Hard, isn't it? That's not good news, not just for the environment but for all the companies who are spending a lot of green on trying to look green. Thanks to BP's recent troubles in the Arctic and elsewhere (and more to come), the old phenomenon of companies trying to look green, or "greenwashing" as it's known, returns to the limelight. Sure, the name switch from British Petroleum to BP (or "beyond petroleum") was cool, but c'mon, how "beyond" it can you be when you've still got all that black stuff on your hands? As Athan Manuel, the director of lands protection at the Sierra Club, puts it to the Washington Post, "Compared to their colleagues in the oil and gas industry, they're the best...[But] Being the best of the oil industry is like being the smartest of the Three Stooges. At the end of the day you're Moe, you're still a stooge."It's true that, since BP's CEO famously broke ranks with the oil industry by recognizing global warming in 1997, the company has invested in alternative energies, started the U.S.'s second largest solar outfit, and lowered its greenhouse gas emissions to 10 percent below 1990 levels (check out their green-heavy website). But what about all those other greenhouse gas emissions? Make no mistake, this is still very much an oil company, one that made $20 billion in 2005 largely from digging up hydrocarbons. In a recent New York Times op-ed ("Beyond Propaganda") even one of the ad-men who worked on Olgilvy and Mather's rebranding campaign for the company laments the wide gap between image and reality, leading us to wonder what research could have been funded with all those millions of marketing dollars. Joe Nocera, the grey lady's business columnist, is also bothered by BP's posing this week:

If BP hadn't been so holier than thou in its marketing these past years, I doubt that it would be getting hammered right now -- at least to this extent. If there is one ironclad rule about marketing, it is that you had better be practicing internally what you are preaching to the world.

Seriously, it's time to give credit to the BPs and the Wal-Marts for what they have done in the way of Treehugging--and we need to keep pushing them to do more. But we should also thank "eco-friendly" corporations like BP for reminding us once again not to be naive about any "green" claims. As Judy Hu, global head of advertising and branding at General Electric, recently summed-up the motivation behind GE's ongoing Ecoimagination campaign to Brandweek,

Green is green as in the color of money. It is about a business opportunity, and we believe we can increase our revenue behind these Ecomagination products and services.

So throw some of your favorite instances of "greenwashing" into the comments section. Or name some big companies that truly deserve the "green" title. But then again (and at the risk of beating an old horse, or entering a deeper, moral realm), that all comes down to how we even define a "green corporation"...

: : Associated Press via : : New York Times;: : Slate covers the BP rebranding; : : Brandweek looks at the difficulty of marketing green; and "New Alaskan Oil Fields Being Offered" : : Washington Post