Marita Noon

British Petroleum is still one of the world’s biggest oil companies. But as early as the late 1990’s they didn’t want you think of them that way. CEO Lord John Browne of Madingley argued that “the transition to alternatives could be accelerated by changing industry practices today.” While other oil companies eschewed climate change alarmism, BP embraced it. In 2002, Lord Browne declared: “Climate change is an issue which raises fundamental questions about the relationship between companies and society as a whole, and between one generation and the next,”

As a result, Mother Jones reported in 2006: “BP vowed to cut its own CO2 emissions and invest heavily in solar, wind, and other alternative technologies; it even supported … the Kyoto climate treaty.”

BP jumped into renewables and their moniker underwent an evolution from British Petroleum to BP, then to Beyond Petroleum. Between 2000 and 2005 BP invested $500 million into solar power and $30 million on wind and have invested more than $4 billion in alternative energy in the US since 2005. At the time, according to the Wall Street Journal, BP turned a profit on its solar business but not on wind. In 2005, Browne “decided that the energy giant should enter unknown territories of wind, solar and hydrogen power” which began a “re-branding” designed to “capture public affection” by positioning “themselves as environmentally friendly enterprises.” 

The switch seemed to be sound strategy. ExxonMobil didn’t agree.

Comments from a 2008 blog post on ExxonMobil’s position as “obstructive over climate change” included the following: “Given that oil isn’t going to last a whole heck of a lot longer, would not a good business strategy be to start investing in renewable energy?” and “Just from a corporate survival perspective, better start learning, and fast. Carbon is the low-hanging energy fruit and soon to become an economic dead end. What company wants to keep going down a dead end?” BP thought it was “prudent to start diversifying now as a kind of insurance policy.”


Marita Noon

Marita Noon is Executive Director of Energy Makes America Great.