Monday, October 8, 2007

Green Monsters

Flipping through a magazine the other evening, I stopped on a two page advertising spread by Chevron entitled "Chevron Presents: Energyville." Billed as an "energy game," Chevron asks "This is your city. How will you power it? How do we meet growing global demand? What new kinds of fuels and power sources should we develop? And how do we safeguard the environment at the same time?" The reader is then directed to play the game, hosted at the website

Now, it is easy to be dismissive of the efforts of massive energy companies to engage in fundamentally changing the dynamics of our energy economy. Their generally upbeat and eco-friendly advertising campaigns, which cheerily suggest that we've got a problem, but, hey, together we can fix it are a little to, well, cheery and upbeat. And I have no illusions that the extremely rich and extremely powerful people who run these companies are concerned as much about tackling global sustainability problems as they are about finding new markets in which to create better margins (after all, when they send the lucky one percent into space after we've despoiled this lovely planet, no doubt the heads of oil companies and their antecedents will be first in line at the launching pad).

But it can't be denied that each and every energy company, whether on the exploration/ production-side or the delivery-side, has a distinct strategic interest in understanding the dynamics of energy in coming years, influencing the market to align with the investments in technology that they are making, and innovating more efficient (and, consequently more eco-friendly, one would hope) solutions to our collective energy needs. Nor can it be denied that the actors most readily positioned to dramatically influence our energy economies are the energy companies themselves. And outside a small coterie of academics and advocacy groups, no one has been forced to think quite so deeply as the energy companies.

Which all sounds like a resounding defense of the Goliaths! Not meant to be. But what has caught my interest is the effort made, in advertising and public relations, at least, by energy companies to engage the public in a dialogue about our energy future. And with the resources available to them, energy companies have been able to provide slicker tools to help the conversation move forward, and often are doing quite a good job at putting out worthwhile information and analyses. Take the aforementioned game at, BP's Carbon Footprint Calculator or Statistical Review of World Energy site, or ConEd's more humble, but useful campaign to educate consumers on household energy conservation tips.

Are my fundamental concerns about energy consumption allayed? No. Do I think that these resources are actually useful in furthering questions about looming energy problems into our consumer consciousness? Yes.

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