Opinion: BP doesn’t deserve to be trusted on climate marketing

The oil and gas company has a history of greenwashing their brand. Any progress they claim to be making should be met with skepticism.

Elijah Helton, Opinions Editor

Oil and gas company BP announced that it will stop its “corporate reputation advertising,” apparently ending its greenwashing efforts. 

While BP wants the public to think this is a win in the fight against climate change, its move should be met with heavy doses of skepticism until the company actually starts behaving positively.

So, what’s going on? Greenwashing can be used to describe lots of marketing methods, all of which have the goal of portraying a company and its products as environmentally friendly, even (and especially) when they’re not.

This is similar to the model used by cigarette companies who stalled and lied to the public as long as possible before the truth about the health effects of their products became publicly known. Understanding the strategies of Philip Morris, owner of Marlboro, and R. J. Reynolds, owner of Camel, can give us some hints with how to handle the greenwashing of fossil-fuel companies.

In its announcement, BP said it’s pulling the “Possibilities Everywhere” ad campaign. The ads overemphasized the relatively small holdings BP has in the renewable-energy industry, including wind and biofuels. 

All of this was done so the public would view fossil-fuel companies as “part of the solution” on climate change. These are the same companies that, until now, have played a massive role in creating climate change. Oil and gas are huge in the increasing global temperatures and have virtually no place in a climate-conscious future.

But maybe BP is a hero. Maybe they’ve changed with their big announcement about their marketing practices. But two major problems remain.

The company formerly known as British Petroleum needs to lose the second half of its name in order to be actually helpful.”

The immediate issue is BP’s lack of credibility. This is like Philip Morris acknowledging its cigarettes used to be toxic, but now it will promote respiratory health — somehow, trust the company. It’s reasonable to be skeptical of anything the fossil-fuel industry claims.

Also, the original problem of fossil fuels still remains. BP’s main products increase carbon emissions thereby making climate change worse. 

There’s no getting around the fact that “the solution” of which companies such as BP want to be a part doesn’t include them. The company formerly known as British Petroleum needs to lose the second half of its name in order to be actually helpful.

BP holds some investments in renewable energy, and that’s a step in the right direction, but we’re out of time for steps. We need to make leaps and bounds in the right direction.

So, what do we actually do? We have some options.

We could take BP at its word. The company says it’ll be carbon neutral by 2050. It seems pretty unlikely that the company will voluntarily achieve that goal. And even if it does, 2050 is far too late for carbon producers as big as BP.

Another approach we can be hopeful, but again, there’s no reason to trust BP. Sure, we can be hopeful that R. J. Reynolds will somehow be better, but that seems ridiculous given its history.

One concrete thing we can do is recognize greenwashing, whether it comes from BP or any other company that’s objective bad for our planet. We should be knowledgeable, skeptical, and wary of any previously bad actor that purport to be actually good now.

BP may want to be part of the future, but it has a lot more to prove than just pulling some ads.

Columns reflect the opinions of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Editorial Board, The Daily Iowan, or other organizations in which the author may be involved.

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