collaborative problem-solving: the fake corporate version

I am back in DC (for the third trip in two weeks), and this time I am greeted by hundreds of Chevron ads asking Metro riders to “join” the company in saving energy by making various personal sacrifices. The real audience for these posters, I presume, consists of policymakers, reporters, and other “influentials” who may ride the Metro.

A generous estimate suggests that Chevron spends less than 4% of its “capital and exploratory budget” on renewable fuels. So, of the $16 billion-$20 billion that it spends every year developing new energy sources, 96% goes to extracting more carbon fuel from under the earth’s surface to be burned.

The company tells different stories in its ads and in its filing for the SEC. The latter is meant to be read by investors. It is full of sentences like this: “An aggressive 2000 well drilling program in the Gulf of Mexico Shelf enabled the company to develop opportunities to offset field declines in production to less than 2 percent between years.” The word “renewable” does not appear in the SEC filing; “conservation” appears only in the context of a legal settlement for “alleged air violations at Chevron’s El Paso Refinery.”

Chevron’s “will you join us?” campaign might offend us on several levels–it’s patronizing, misleading, and designed to protect activities that harm the earth. For me, an added insult is Chevron’s misuse of the spirit of voluntary cooperation that is so prevalent right now. Yes, we need to come together to protect the environment, using a range of strategies that includes private behavioral changes, initiatives within organizations and communities, technological innovations, and government action. People seem to be in the mood to show responsibility and to work together on solutions. It is utterly galling to see that spirit appropriated for a PR campaign designed to protect the prerogatives of a world-class corporate polluter.