BP's CEO's Legacy
Today's NY Times has an interesting oped called Beyond Propaganda by John Kenney, one of the creators of BP's beyond petroleum campaign. He talks about the man in the street interviews they did to find out what people thought about oil companies and what they thought about BP when they found out it had accepted that global warming was a real problem and were committed to doing something about it by making major investments into alternative energy.
Kenney was impressed with the company and felt good that he was able to help them change public perception. But then he heard about how they had neglected to take care of their responsibilities for their pipelines and he wonders how much of the rest of it the image was just greenwash. Because, you know, it didn't have to be that way.
Advertising is a funny business. You get to help shape the personalities of huge companies. Most often it's for cellphone service or credit cards or fast food or paper towels. Rarely are you faced with whether you "believe" in a product or service. This was different. This was serious. I believed wholeheartedly in BP's message, that we could go — or at least work toward going — beyond petroleum.
...I guess, looking at it now, "beyond petroleum" is just advertising. It's become mere marketing — perhaps it always was — instead of a genuine attempt to engage the public in the debate or a corporate rallying cry to change the paradigm. Maybe I'm naïve.
It's just that I believe that the handful of men who run these remarkable companies possess something more valuable than wealth, privilege and power. They have at their disposal the truly rare possibility of creating a legacy, the ability to change things, on a huge scale.
I never actually met Lord Browne. He announced recently that he'll retire at the end of 2008, when he reaches BP's mandatory retirement age of 60. I have no doubt he is a good, decent and exceptionally bright person. But imagine what the headlines could have read: "Lord Browne to retire; changed oil industry and the world."
And corporations wonder why we are cynical.