Online greenery

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In common with the rest of the world, I can’t escape talking about greenery this week. And if I am bringing together business, web and the environment, I come inevitably to the energy giants. What are they doing online, and who does it best?

You could say that BP does it too well. Hand up here – BP is a client, though I have had no effect on the bits I’m talking about. Look at its site (www.bp.com). It is bright yellow and green, sunshine and grass. All part of its overall branding of course but particularly effective on the computer screen because it is lit up by whatever makes computer screens light up.

In view on the home page this week is a panel asking the question ‘What size is your footprint?’ This leads through to the carbon footprint calculator, a natural for the web because it asks a series of questions then churns out an answer. My carbon footprint is embarrassingly high, almost entirely because I fly on aeroplanes. Also on the page is a link to the Environmental Mapping tool, which shows the effect BP’s individual plants are having on the environment – a very neat way of displaying complex data. And a link to the latest Sustainability Report.

All this though at a time when the group has been getting a hammering on environmental issues such as maintenance of its Alaska pipelines. Is its flaunting of environmental awareness on the home page a green flag to a bull? To be fair, it does have an ‘Alaska update’ on its US home page, but I would have thought it should be speaking to its global audience.

Or rather audiences. Companies in the environmental front line have to talk to the general public, and devices such as the carbon footprint calculator are a good way of doing it. Another is to get the public talking itself. Chevron (www.chevron.com) has taken over Shell’s role by running an online discussion. Tell Shell, an uncensored forum set up eight years ago, is currently offline, but Chevron’s heavily promoted Will You Join Us (www.willyoujoinus.com) is gamely trying to keep the public engaged. The current debate, on how energy development can co-exist with a clean and sustainable environment, had 478 posts in the last month, which seems quite respectable.

But these companies also need to talk to professionals. ‘The environment’ is a big industry, including lobby groups, political parties and of course a great biomass of consultancies. It would be nice to include financial analysts in this group, though I fear this is wishful thinking (there are certainly precious few links to environmental content from investor relations sections).

The web is by far the best medium with which to communicate with green professionals, because it can provide huge amounts of data, and even allow them to manipulate it. Shell (www.shell.com) has a Performance Data section within its substantial Environment and Society site. Alongside a mass of descriptive pages and graphs, you can download all the data you might want in PDF documents. BP goes one better. By plugging its Health, Safety and Environment numbers into an analysis tool usually used for financial results, it allows the diligent consultant to chart methane emissions, oil spills and much more by business group and year, and display or export it in all sorts of ways.

ExxonMobil has long been seen as the chief baddy by environmental groups. Type ‘exxonmobil climate change’ into Google, and you will find a mass of sites keen to explain why. Its own site (www.exxonmobil.com) is currently promoting a section on ‘responding to world energy needs’ on its home page. But you have to dig into the Corporate Citizenship area to find anything on the environment, and then there is rather less than meets the eye.

A prominent link to Biodiversity Conservation leads through to a section that appears to be substantial – it has plenty of sub-sections – but suffers from an affliction common in social responsibility content: it is worthy but dull. Lots of stuff on how it is complying with this or that acronym, but only one case study and little else to bring the subject alive. Compare it with Shell’s Biodiversity section (one of three ‘global environmental issues’) and it pales. Shell has some engaging explanations, a section entitled ‘Why should Shell care?’, 21 case studies and a lot more. Exxonmobil does have plenty of data and other useful material (including a carefully worded page on climate science) in its Corporate Citizenship Report , but I can see why its detractors continue to detract.

Energy groups outside the anglo-saxon world may not come under quite as much scrutiny. Certainly ENI (www.eni.it) offers less than even ExxonMobil. It has a good online version of its Health Safety Environment report, but the rest of its sustainability content has a high ‘dull but worthy’ index. A Link to Kyoto Protocol looks promising, but the page itself is hard work. It all quite dull, but not as dull as Russia’s Lukoil (www.lukoil.com), which really is tedious.

Petrobras (www.petrobras.com) has more, though it is quite difficult to find. Having one section called Environment and another called Environmental and Social Responsibility does not help. I found a few figures in a downloadable document on air emissions, but otherwise data is elusive. What the site does have is some good case studies. The Environmental Program section tells how the company is trying to save whales, rain forest and turtles, and links to separate sites that tell more. I particularly like the home page on the right whale projects site (www.baleiafranca.org.br) – make sure you have sound up on your computer.

David Bowen is a website effectiveness consultant for Bowen Craggs & Co (www.bowencraggs.com). dbowen@bowencraggs.com

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