Can British Petroleum, one of the world’s biggest oil companies, awash in cash and resources be knocked down by an event as blatant as a “simple” environmental disaster? The question may well have been unthinkable until very recently, but given the oil giant’s CSR communication that is found outrageously hypocritical by many, BP may now easily become a punching bag so popular that no organization can survive. The foolishness of the few, combined with the rage of the many might now bring an end to the story that is British Petroleum. Beyond petroleum, beyond preposterous – and beyond all expectations.
The first chapter of BP’s story has its roots in qualities as common and popular as hipocrisy, pretentiousness and greed. The global company triggered overwhelming anger towards its policies with its “Beyond Petroleum” branding campaign way before the Deep Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico sent some 1,000,000 barrels of oil into the sea in April, 2010.
According to the company, the slogan “Beyond Petroleum” refers to BP’s being the “global leader in producing the cleanest burning fossil fuel: Natural Gas,” says CorpWatch. While it’s obvious that natural gas is not petroleum, and, when burnt, it emits slightly less carbon-dioxide for the same amount of energy produced. Calculations on the other hand show that when fugitive emissions or leaks are counted, the difference is next to zero, if anything.
British Petroleum also claims to be “the largest producer of solar energy in the world”, but based on the fact that it became market leader by buying the Solarex solar energy corporation for $45 million in the same year when it invested $26.5 billion in ARCO, a company that will help BP to increase its production capacity for oil, the priority of clean energy within company values is highly questionable. In reference of other figures, the corporation will spend $5 billion over five years for oil exploration in Alaska alone – and according to an unknown, malvolent source, BP spent more on their new eco-friendly logo last year than on renewable energy.
After the conflict between the company’s actions and its new branding message emerged, BP ran into a second failure by treating the scandal more as a communication issue than a reality issue. True, the internet was flooded with spoofs of BP’s green ads, but the furious company only managed to get deeper into the crisis with trying to get hold of the situation. To illustrate BP’s epic fail in communication, it is suffice to say that when it complained to Twitter about one of the numerous parody feeds that mocked the company’s efforts to clean up the Gulf of Mexico oil spill the tweeter BPGlobalPR changed its bio to “We are not associated with Beyond Petroleum, the company that has been destroying the Gulf of Mexico for 51 days.” How’s that for a result? And let us add that the BPGlobalPR feed has 164,000 followers as opposed to the 14,500 followers of BP’s official Twitter feed, BPAmerica. Much of the criticism has already moved to #BPrebrand, where suggestions for BP so far included Big Profits Botched PR, Beyond Pollution, Busted Pipeline and Bankruptcy Please!
The fate of British Petroleum, on the other hand is still not up to outraged environmentalists or pissed off Tweeters. The company is now dependent of politicians and investors. And as many argue, politicians’ hipocrisy of finding oil companies as scapegoats of environmental disasters, while still benefiting from and being dependent on low cost oil may mean life for BP this time.