BP: Not Really “Beyond Petroleum,” Just Greenwash After All

When British Petroleum rebranded itself a few years ago as just “BP,” it adopted the tagline “Beyond Petroleum,” in an attempt to signal a commitment to new energy technologies, and to new ways of doing business.

Of course, there were skeptics. Back in 2000, CorpWatch had this to say about the rebranding:

BP’s re-branding as the “Beyond Petroleum” company is perhaps the ultimate co-optation of environmentalists’ language and message. Even apart from the twisting of language, BP’s suggestion that producing more natural gas is somehow akin to global leadership is preposterous. Make that Beyond Preposterous.

So, the accusation was basically one of greenwash — essentially, an attempt to mask a lousy environmental record with a thin patina of environmental commitment. Had I commented back in 2000, I might have suggested that it was too early, then, to confidently accuse the company of greenwash. Sometimes companies do undergo substantial changes — changes in policy, in culture, and in leadership. The worry then is that if we criticize or mock a company’s stated intention to turn over a new-and-greener leaf, we may actually be doing more harm than good by taking the wind out of the sails of what might actually be positive change.

OK, fast-forward to 2010, to the biggest oil spill in U.S. history and to the Center for Public Integrity stating that BP accounts for “97 percent of all flagrant violations found in the refining industry by government safety inspectors over the past three years”.

Greenwashing? Case closed, as far as public opinion of BP is concerned. And perhaps more importantly, it now becomes just that much harder for the public to take seriously any big company’s claim that it really wants to improve its environmental performance.

7 comments so far

  1. […] MacDonald writing on his site, the Business Ethics Blog, discusses the phenomenon of “Greenwash.” (I recommended an article from the site, Ethical Corporation, which discusses some of the same […]

  2. […] Chris MacDonald, on The Business Ethics Blog: BP: Not Really “Beyond Petroleum,” Just Greenwash After All […]

  3. […] Now, you don’t have to be much of a cynic to be somewhat skeptical. Back in 2001, another oil company, British Petroleum, claimed to be turning over a new leaf when it branded itself as just BP, which it suggested stood for “Beyond Petroleum.” We all know how that turned out. […]

  4. […] Many people will detect a whiff of greenwashing, here. And you don’t have to be much of a cynic to be somewhat skeptical. Back in 2001, another oil company, British Petroleum, claimed to be turning over a new leaf when it branded itself as just BP, which it suggested stood for “Beyond Petroleum.” We all know how that turned out. […]

  5. Dan Wheeler on

    This disconnect reminds me of a quote,

    “It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” — Roy Disney

  6. […] Moxham was previously director of policy of BP’s alternative energy department and part of the team pledged to move BP  ‘Beyond Petroleum’. However, the initiative concerned environmental campaigners as ineffective. […]

  7. […] to move BP  ‘Beyond Petroleum’. However, the initiative concerned environmental campaigners as ineffective. [READ THE […]


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