The latest ads from Chevron have real people – Chevron people – addressing real issues, showing everyday folk like you an me what a great thing Chevon is doing for us.
“It’s time oil companies get behind the development of renewable energy” Who can disagree with that? Or “Oil companies should support the communities they are a part of.” Indeed.
Nobody interested in a sustainable future based on a new energy economy and social justice can really disagree with these well-crafted statements at the heart of Chevron’s latest public relations campaign, We Agree. Any greenwashed PR worthy of a multi-national energy behemoth like Chevron should deliver no less than such a positive message that places itself squarely in the center of a bright, cheery future.
On it’s face, the message is good, positive – even hopeful and optimistic. But that’s the insidious thing about greenwashing. It looks and sounds really good. Blatant lies and outright false advertising is for two-bit chumps that think they’ll never get caught in their lies and deception. Just ask ex-Congressman Chris Lee as an example of such a chump for a lesson on how that works.
Chevron’s campaign has generally mixed just enough truth, combined with powerful storytelling and world-class production, in an effort to divert attention to the total picture, the full truth, the real story. It’s a very sophisticated shell game, as Carol Pierson Holding writes in CSRHub.
Pierson wonders why Chevron isn’t “tooting their own horn” with the news that they are selling their four remaining coal mines and getting out of coal entirely. Surely that falls within the message of getting “behind the development of renewable energy,” Pierson wonders. So why doesn’t Chevron want us to know about the divestiture of coal?
Look to the Gulf
The reason lay in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. With an equal lack of fanfare, Chevron recently announced a $4 billion investment in the aptly-named Big Foot deepwater drilling rig to be located 225 miles south of New Orleans.
But don’t look at that! Pay no attention to “Big Foot”! Look instead at the all the millions of dollars (with a small “m”) invested in what is listed in their 2009 annual report as “other” projects.
There is no doubt that Chevron does invest time and energy into renewable energy projects, but do they tell the whole story? No. Do they paint an overly rosy picture? Yes.
Being a good neighbor
Multi-national corporations can have a big impact on local communities, for good and ill. In its We Agree campaign, Chevron touts healthcare programs and training of indigenous engineers, teachers and farmers as “more than good business,” driving the point home in one ad with an Angolan engineer, ostensibly a Chevron employee, saying “It’s my country’s future.”
Indeed it is. But there is more to the record of Chevron in Angola than a well-spoken engineer claiming the positive influence of his employer for his country. Much more.
It’s one thing to have a positive influence in local communities, quite another to turn those communities into “company towns,” as Chevron has done throughout Africa and the Third World.
Chevron would rather you look at training programs or a clinic or two- not bad in and of itself – than the trail of environmental destruction, political instability, and social injustice it has left it its wake. Offering another view of Chevron’s community activism is Angola resident Agostinho Chicaia: “The solution? Discontinue Chevron’s oil exploration in Cabinda, as it is the mother of our disgrace, bringing poverty, environmental problems, and armed conflict.”
And now Chevron faces an $8 billion judgement from a court in Ecuador resulting from environmental destruction in the Amazon for which it is being held responsible. Chevron, of course, claims that the judgment has no legitimacy and is accusing the Ecuadoran government of influence peddling in the court’s decision – so much for neighborliness.
Keeping it real
So is Chevron greenwashing with their We Agree campaign? Yes.
(I hear some of you out there: “Well, Duh!” But I hear, or soon will, my accusation of greenwashing on Chevron’s part as the ranting of an “environmental whacko.”)
Call it “soft greenwash” if you will. They present a good message, but what is missing in the gloss and craft of its delivery is the full picture. Chevron claims, among other things, that they “are behind the development of renewable energy” and “support the communities they are a part of.” All tinged with a bit of altruism, because it’s “more than good business.”
It smacks ultimately as disingenuous.
What we need from oil companies is an honest discussion, not high-production public relations. Instead of Chevron’s We Agree, perhaps more of Shell’s Signals and Signposts. It isn’t as warm and fuzzy, but it’s a lot more real.