What’s a socially- and environmentally-conscious consumer supposed to do?
I haven’t bought gas at an Exxon station since 1989 following the disastrous oil spill of the Exxon Valdez oil tanker hit a reef in Prince William Sound on March 24, 1989.
It was a matter of principle. Exxon’s response to the oil spill was slow, defensive and insensitive. All these years, I have not wanted to spend my money on a company like Exxon.
On the other hand, I truly believed BP was worthy of my money.
I really got to see what BP was made of back in 2000 when I was working on a column about our upcoming smog season.
At the time, the state of Georgia had passed requirements for gasoline companies to sell cleaner low-sulfur fuel by May 1, 2003 in metro Atlanta in time to meet federal clean-fuel standards that were being phased in between 2004 and 2006.
Every gasoline company said there was no way they would be able to meet the demand for low-sulfur fuel by 2003. All but one — BP Amoco.
Instead of fighting the new standards, BP Amoco had started selling low-sulfur gas in 1999 and was able to sell the cleaner premium fuel at its 400 stations in the 25-county metro area for the smog season of 2000.
At the time, BP officials said it was not a matter of meeting state or federal requirements, it was a matter of the company’s corporate philosophy to be an environmental leader.
Over the years, I followed BP’s environmental policies from afar. Sir John Browne (who later became Lord John Browne), who was CEO of the company until 2007, declared that BP was not an oil company but an energy company. In fact, its advertising line became “BP – Beyond Petroleum.”
The company joined the Business Environmental Leadership Council; it supported the Kyoto accord; and Bowne echoed precautions about global warming as far back as 1997; and in 1998, Browne committed to reducing the company’s CO2 emissions by 10 percent by 2010.
That wasn’t all. BP began transforming its gas stations — installing solar panels to reduce its use of fossil fuels. It even redesigned its logo to look like a sun with green, yellow and white rays.
Former Morehouse College President Walter Massey served on BP’s board, and chaired the company’s Ethics and Environment Assurance Committee before retiring from the board in 2008. He and I had had several conversations about how BP was different from other petroleum companies.
And in BP’s mission statement, one of its values is to carry on its “business in an environmentally responsible manner, and develop cleaner energy and renewable energy sources.” The mission went on to say that BP was “committed to the responsible treatment of the planet’s resources and to the development of sources of lower-carbon energy.”
Because of those tangible and intangible environmental policies, I always felt good about buying gas from BP stations. I even didn’t mind spending a few extra pennies per gallon when there would be a competing gas stations offering a cheaper price.
And then came the disastrous oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20 (ironically Hitler’s birthday).
As much as I would like to give BP the benefit of the doubt, it has been distressing to see how unprepared the company and its partners were to deal with such a catastrophe.
Also, from my perspective, it seemed as though BP kept minimizing the problem — underestimating how many barrels of oil were spilling every day in the gulf — floating to Louisiana’s shores.
And BP’s efforts to try to stop the leak could be called a comedy of errors if the situation wasn’t so tragic.
There’s such a feeling of helplessness when one witnesses disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti; or man-made catastrophes like the oil spill in the gulf on the oil spill in Alaska.
So when I decide where or where not to spend my money, it makes me feel as though I’m doing something — as small as it might be.
But now I’m at a loss. I certainly don’t plan to start buying gas from Exxon, but I will think twice before I buy gas from BP.
What is a socially- and environmentally-conscious consumer supposed to do?
The only answer I can think of is to try to reduce the amount of gas I use, thereby spending as little money as possible contributing to the profits and sins of oil companies.