Fossil Fuel Companies

Shell’s Let’s Go. Campaign

Fossil fuel use and the climate change debate go hand in hand and energy companies have realized the growing demand for going green. Shell is one such company creating advertising like the “Let’s go.” campaign which presents their products as green and their company as having the environment’s best interest in mind. One clip, aired originally in 2010, depicts two young boys going out to fly a kite and says: “In Brazil, Shell has created a fuel for factories that can cut soot emissions, allowing Raul and his brother to play under clearer skies. Let’s make our energy cleaner and more efficient: let’s go.” The cheering crowd on the beach and rally of “let’s go!” might leave you ready to skip down the sidewalk singing Mary Poppins:

Let’s go fly a kite / Up to the highest height / Let’s go fly a kite and send it soaring

Up through the atmosphere / Up where the air is clear / Oh, let’s go fly a kite!”

Unfortunately, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be – people look at you funny when you skip down the sidewalk. Oh, and the advertisement has some flaws too. So let’s go have a look at those…

When you take a closer look it is easy to see that the ad participates in what UL Environment calls “Sins of Greenwashing.” So what does that mean? First, they define green washing as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.” Then, there are the sins, which are specific strategies that a company might use to try to mislead the consumers. In other words: this is how companies trick all of us. In this clip I found three primary sins of green washing:

  1. Sin of No Proof: Shell claims they have “created a fuel for factories that can cut soot emissions.” However, there was no easily accessible explanation of their method, what resources they are using to complete this or why it is in Brazil. The keywords they have used are “cut soot emissions,” which seems like the right thing to do. However, due to the ambiguities and omitted information, we cannot make an informed decision about whether or not Shell is truly helping the environment without significant research.
  2. Sin of Lesser of Two Evils: cutting soot emissions is great, but soot emissions in the first place are bad. For this reason the commercial participates in the Sin of Lesser of Two Evils, because they are using a seemingly good thing to distract from a larger problem.
  3. Sin of Hidden Trade Off: while Shell is producing “a fuel for factories” as they call it, there are environmental costs of the production of ethanol, which is what Shell was referring to in the clip. There are also enormous environmental costs accompanying the other products Shell is creating.

Fortunately, after some digging I was able to find more information about Shell’s projects. According to their 2010 Sustainability Report, Shell is “now investing in the production of the lowest CO2, most sustainable and cost-competitive of today’s biofuels – Brazilian sugar-cane ethanol,” which proved that the ad is truthful. Additionally, Shell discussed how they are even using sugar cane waste material to power some of their own plants!

Regrettably, in the same report they announced that they had a 9% increase from the previous year in their own greenhouse gas emissions: a total of 75 million tonnes on a CO2-equivalent scale. To put that in perspective, according to Climate Neutral Group, 1 tonne can be balanced out by 50 trees growing for a year. Shell would need to plant 3,750,000,000 trees to have those clear kite flying skies. They also said that they expect improvements in energy efficiency in their gas production “will be difficult to maintain as existing fields age and production comes from more energy-intensive sources.” In short: while they are developing more environmentally friendly fuels like the one advertised, everything else is going to get worse.

Julia Corbett talks about ads featuring the environment in her book Communicating Nature. Shell’s ad would easily fall into her category of Green Image advertising. This means that Shell is using the ad to present themselves as “an environmentally responsible corporate citizen.” Since they are in many ways harming the environment, it is no surprise that the advertising campaign overwhelmingly backfired on Shell. Organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth promptly created their own parody campaigns and protest messages using the tag line “Let’s go.” to protest Shell’s actions. Perhaps this is the reason that in more recent advertisements on Shell’s “Let’s go.” page now use phrasing such as “#makethefuture” and “let’s broaden the world’s energy mix.”

Even though the Brazilian beaches look great, the true nature of Shell’s work is not nearly as spectacular. While Shell’s commercial was truthful, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes that we don’t see. They used misleading strategies to present themselves as an environmentally friendly company and focused on only one small portion of their business. The development of these better fuels is helpful for our ongoing energy crisis, but Shell still has a long way to go.

Critique by Krista Sonia

BP’s Ongoing Commitment

The BP Oil spill that happened four years ago on April 20th 2010 was one of the biggest environmental disasters in the world. Pumping oil into the Gulf for 87 days, it is known for being the largest oil spill in history. The well on the ocean floor   was finally capped in September that year.

After an immediate response by BP and the US government, clean up efforts are still slightly underway and the health of community is bouncing back, according to BP’s advertisements about their community outreach initiatives. However, all this is a fallacy – a greenwashing technique to promote the “green” image of the company.

Think of greenwashing as attempting to environmentally “brainwash” you into believing that a company is beneficial to the environment, like a sort of failed Jedi mind trick – “This isn’t the massive catastrophe you’re looking for.” Nice try BP, but we see you.

In one of their ads, “BP Gulf Coast Update: Our On Going Commitment,” they try to paint themselves as a green and responsible company, helping to restore the community and environment.

To begin with, don’t forget they were the ones who caused the largest Oil Spill in history . The ad starts off by letting viewers know that BP created a $20 million dollar fund for recovery and that they are paying for all “legitimate” clean up.  They pledge to study the Gulf and the impacts of their oil spill for ten whole years. All this information is being provided by a woman’s voice over, with images of the bird wildlife and healthy marine habitat fading in and out on screen. The apparent results and good news climax of the advertisement is to report that the Gulf beaches are open. Not that they are safe or healthy, or back to normal – but rather just the announcement that they can be opened again. As a result the ad makes it seem like the areas affected have been having the best upward swing in the economy. Well, duh. The beaches just reopened after being shut down because the ocean was slick with oil.

What I’m trying to say here is that the environmental image BP is trying to take on is not working. Their performance does not match their image – and as I’ve just showed you, the image doesn’t say much at all. And look at what BP is doing today – they have ended active clean up of the Gulf. According to CBS news, BP is no longer actively seeking oil in the environment but rather waiting for people to call in and report incidents of where there is still oil in the ecosystem. Both the Coast Guard and BP are confident that most of the cleanup has been completed, even though the ecosystems impacted by the Exxon Valdez disaster a couple decades ago, a much smaller spill, still has not recovered. According the National Wildlife Foundation (NFW) the total cost for fully cleaning up the spill will be around $14 billion, so don’t worry – BP’s $1 billion contribution in the form of a down payment should really help, coupled with their $20 million recovery fund of course.

Clearly BP isn’t doing much to commit to the Gulf for cleanup, even though they are trying to position themselves as doing some really great work. And though the money they are putting in to the recovery does help to some degree, compared to the actual damage and cost of the spill, it just isn’t enough. Spills like this cannot happen, and they shouldn’t. But they do, and BP should be fully responsible for a complete and true clean up. Instead, they are providing the public with commercials highlighting inconsequential information in hopes of appearing environmentally beneficial and working towards a cleaner Gulf. This green image is not as valid as BP’s ad makes it appear to be – so I ask you, reader: is this BP or just BS, or is there even a difference?

Critique by Sean Morrissey

BP Oil Company

Many advertisements have hidden or underlying messages. Many of the advertisements that are made are done by public relations companies, which work for the program or organization featured in the advertisement. The press release’s job is to ensure that the image the advertisement gives off is positive. Giving off a positive and partially correct image is one of the only concerns that corporations have. Corporations invest hundreds of thousands of dollars into advertisements because it is one of the leading ways in which they get new consumers. Many times products that have negative effect would not display those on the advertisement because that wouldn’t benefit the company.  Some of the advertisements use the environment as a backdrop; they use green washing, which Julia Corbett discusses in a chapter titled, “Advertising in the Natural World.”

The BP Oil commercial I analyze here exemplifies all of these traits.  This advertisement is in the form of a video; it is reflective of green washing principals. Many ethical questions are brought up throughout this type of advertising, but the bottom line is that public relations companies have bought media loyalty in order to better market their products.   But do they have an ethical and moral duty to the people who consume the products they advertise?

This  BP commercial focuses of the most tender and fragile pieces of society. It focuses on our economy. Everyone wants a better economy with more jobs right? Because more jobs means a wider variety of jobs, which leads to better jobs. This ad is based on the capitalist consumerist policy’s our economy thrives on.

The oil company is creating more jobs, which is beneficial to the economy. More money in the economy means more money in people’s pockets, which means they are more likely to spend their money, which in turn means more jobs. However the environmental approach to this argument is flawed, because the production of more goods means a larger environmental impact. People may be traveling more which would lead to greater CO2 emissions.

The ad presents oil as a necessity in every person’s daily life.  This is a key marketing strategy, because the company is creating a dependency in the consumer. In addition to this, the add throws out numbers upon numbers of statistics to the viewer. The average consumer would most likely have no context to put these numbers in, and the numbers just seem very large. For example, the ad discussed helping 35,000 people. This number seems large, but when taking into consideration the 300 million people that live in the United States, this number is quite miniscule. However when watching the ad, hearing 35,000 people seems large because most people aren’t creating a comparison to the Unites States population at that time. The ad also throws out the number 30 million, which is the amount of money they donate to charities. However, the meager 30 million doesn’t stand so large when considering BP has 22.5 billion in cash reserves alone, according to

All in all the advertisement plays on the weakness of the American economy, creates dependency within the consumer, and throws out nuisance information to the consumer. The press release company gets an A+ for creating such a hypnotizing and ingenious and add, especially considering they have little to work with when markets a product which is destroying the environment. Who would have ever thought you could make a career by targeting human weaknesses? With that being said, it is your job to decide whether companies  should hold their loyalty to the companies  or the public that watches their ads.

Critique by Morgan Oakes

TransCanada KXL Ad

Over the past few years the Keystone XL pipeline went from an uncontested oil pipeline project to a rally cry in the environmental movement.  It is an oil pipeline that President Obama was planning on giving the permit to before the end of his first term in office, before environmentalists stepped in and kick started a nation wide campaign against Keystone XL.  TransCanada is one of the main oil and gas companies extracting oil sands, also known as tar sands, up in Alberta.  However, environmentalists have delayed the decision and highlighted the environmental impacts of such a project.  Therefore, TransCanada has combated the environmental backlash with ads on the radio, television, and online.

An ad that I found from this campaign to promote the pipeline is titled “TransCanada-Keystone XL Pipeline-Let’s Get it Done.”  This advertisement can be very misleading to the average audience who may not know too much about TransCanada or the Keystone XL pipeline.  I consider this advertisement a form of greenwashing, which is an act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service.  This advertisement does not give any data to support a few newspaper headlines, nor does it address any of the pipeline spills that occur every year.  I will address the problematic claims made by TransCanada by explaining the different types of ads that feature the environment and describe the imagery and subliminal eco-tone used to trick viewers and listeners into thinking the company is environmentally sound.

There are four basic types of ads featuring the environment Julia Corbett addresses in her book titled Communicating Nature.  The four ads are: nature as a backdrop, green product attributes, green image, and environmental advocacy.  The advertisement by TransCanada uses green image and green product attributes to trick the consumer into thinking it is an environmentally responsible company.

Green product attributes highlight the environmental benefits of that product.  In the case of oil sands, it is claimed to be cleaner than heavy crude from California, and according to the State Department, “ would have little effect on climate change.”  However these environmental benefits are worded in such a way that makes oil sand bitumen sound like a great energy source when actually it is not. The State Department did not account in their Environmental Impact Statement report which found the Keystone XL pipeline would lead to an increase of extraction of oil in Alberta.  When the ad mentions tar sands oil is cleaner than heavy crude from California according to the journal of Nature, it fails to incorporate the line after in that article which states, “Tar-sands development raises serious air- and water-quality issues, in Canada, but these problems are well outside Obama’s jurisdiction.”

The second type of advertising this ad incorporates in the thirty-second segment is the “green image.”  Green image sets aside some space in the advertisement to show how environmentally responsible the company is instead of the product.  TransCanada does a fairly good job at masking the environmental degradations of oil sands and oil sands extraction by highlighting its commitment to renewable energy and its practices that must follow strict Canadian environmental regulations.  The overall purpose of this ad is to feature the Keystone XL pipeline as environmentally sound as possible, however, the ad begins with stating TransCanada’s commitment to renewable energy first by stating, “ TransCanada sees North Americas whole energy picture from investing in renewables to the critical Keystone XL pipeline.”  By phrasing the ad this way shifts partial focus away from the oil pipeline to the companies investments in renewable energy and continues to subliminally pound the audience with background pictures of renewable energy.  Next, Canada having strict environmental regulations is a fallacy.  According to an article “Little green lies: Prime Minister Harper and Canada’s environment,” the author writes, “Not one of the bills introduced in the current session is intended to improve Canada’s environmental record.  Instead, environmental laws are being weakened to expedite industrial development [such as the Alberta oil sands].”

As for the aspects and imagery of the video ad, TransCanada does a good job with deceiving the consumer into thinking they are an environmentally sound company.  A few ways the advertisement presents itself in an environmental manner are the colors used and the imagery.  The advertisement begins with showing a solar photovoltaic panel indicating the company’s commitment to sustainability and continues to show renewable energy projects in the background to the entire ad.  However, TransCanada fails to note how much of their earnings are invested in renewable energy which could lead viewers astray.   Secondly, the colors of blue and green are used frequently throughout the ad to set a nice earthy and eco-friendly tone to the ad.

The imagery and claims presented by TransCanada are strong and deceptive.  It is important to research a product or company being advertised to thoroughly understand the claims presented.  Green washing is a likely occurrence that many consumers may not realize.  TransCanada uses deceptive techniques such as green product attributes and green image to try to sway the viewer’s perspective.  However, as I conduct a small review of the company, it turns out they are not as environmentally oriented as they once appeared to be.   TransCanada’s advertisement for Keystone XL pipeline is a form of green washing that fails to include facts and harms cause by this form of oil.

Critique by David Smith