Gallery: IS IT GREEN? ExxonMobil


It’s easy enough to dismiss oil and gas company claims of sustainability as out of hand, but what happens when a respected outside source asserts green claims? That’s what happened recently with ExxonMobil, which was named the Green Company of the Year in this month’s issue of Forbes Magazine. The business magazine claims that ExxonMobil’s big liquified natural gas investments in Qatar save millions of gallons of oil from being burned and stop millions of tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the air. But is that enough to make ExxonMobil a truly green company?

It’s true that natural gas (AKA methane) is cleaner than both oil and coal. As the Forbes article states, “Per unit of energy delivered, methane releases 40% to 50% less carbon dioxide than coal and a quarter less than petroleum. Coal fuels half of U.S. power generation. Replacing all of it with methane would cut CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons a year. Could windmills come close to that in reducing greenhouse gases? Not easily.” So yes, ExxonMobil deserves kudos for building plants in Qatar that will soon pump out 1.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas annually, but natural gas isn’t a renewable resource. Just like with oil, the liquid fuel will hit a peak point of production, and after that less and less natural gas can be produced each year. It’s a short-term solution to a long-term problem. But there’s more to the Exxon story than just methane.

Greenpeace has run a long-standing campaign against the oil company dubbed ExxonSecrets, and some of their findings are downright shameful. As recently as this May, Exxon has been accused of directly funding junk scientists that claim global warming is a farce. Last year, NASA scientist James Hansen proclaimed that CEO’s (like Exxon’s Rex Tillerson) who fund these junk scientists “should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”

At the same time, though, Exxon has begun a campaign to invest more in renewable technology. It’s a campaign that is obviously being financed for financial reasons — after all, Tillerson has in the past referred to biofuels as “moonshine“. But that hasn’t stopped Exxon from partnering with Synthetic Genomics for a $600 million investment in the production of biofuel from algae. Exxon also recently announced plans to provide materials that are instrumental in the production of the Maya 300 electric car’s lithium-ion batteries.

Again, these are financially motivated decisions made by a company that operates with the idea in mind that the world won’t move past coal, natural gas, and crude oil for at least 100 years. Algae fuel and lithium-ion materials are simply the company’s attempt at hedging its bets.

Photo by thetruthabout

Is It Green?

Since Exxon is a company driven purely by profit, it will never incorporate sustainability into the way it does business. It will always just be a byproduct of money-making schemes. And as long as profits from Exxon’s more sustainably-minded endeavors (like algae fuel) are funneled into climate change-denying science, Exxon doesn’t come even close to deserving titles like “Green Company of the Year”.

+ Forbes


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  1. newgreeneconomy October 7, 2009 at 11:37 am

    Damn right Rex Tillerson should be charged with crimes against humanity:

    The case seems pretty clear, and it seems highly possible that Bangladesh or other countries that will be first and severely affected by climate change may do so in an attempt to force realistic action.

  2. Jensen August 24, 2009 at 11:53 am

    “Since Exxon is a company driven purely by profit, it will never incorporate sustainability into the way it does business.” – this sentence does the green business community a disservice by implying that green companies aren’t profit-driven or don’t make a profit.

    In a capitalist society, the goal of companies is to make a profit. Green businesses have the same objective, but believe that the economy can be worked with in such a way so that socially and environmentally friendly actions can be a profit driver. The main difference is that green businesses look more into the long term for profit, while many short-sited traditional businesses drive a short-term profit, but because of their unsustainable practices, do not create a financially sustainable long-term business model.

  3. malulo August 22, 2009 at 8:07 pm

    Oh, Exxon is so full of it. I live on a 38,000 acre ranch iin South Texas. XOM has been operating here since 1935– they dump, lie, bury, kill birds — whatever. I have unfettered access to their whole operation and I made a website with a blog and I wonder around their stuff. It’s really bad. They are just a bunch of bureaucrats.
    My site is

  4. russ August 21, 2009 at 1:06 am

    @allim – Well put! Profits? Without them we could all be villagers sitting on the banks of some river fishing for our supper – or following along behind an oxen plowing a field. Neither the fishing or plow are attractive to me.

    Green has a thousand meanings to a thousand groups – I don’t think any one party has a claim to ownership of the word.

    The object is for all, individuals and companies, to do better.

  5. allim August 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I’ll agree as much as the next person that it’s a little ridiculous to dub Exxon THE green company of the year, but is it really wise to make blanket statements such as “Since Exxon is a company driven purely by profit, it will never incorporate sustainability into the way it does business”? We should try to emphasize the business case for sustainability, showing that it can be in the best interest of both producers and consumers.

  6. devcayer August 20, 2009 at 3:22 pm

    I highly disagree with this article. First steps are just that…First Steps. At least they are heading in the right direction. The truth of the matter is that the plug-in hybrids just put the problem somewhere else, i.e. at the power plants that are still burning fossil fuels. Nuclear energy/Wind Energy/Geothermal/Solar etc. can all be part of the solution, but the power plants are still going to charge you for the services of providing these various sources of power, so no matter what they’re going to make money. Biofuels allow us to keep the HUGE infrastructure we already have, Exxon realizes this and so now they are moving in this direction. Biofuels are the future, they can be a carbon negative resource if the algae consume more CO2 than they need to make the lipids used in the biofuels. Exxon may not be going after YOUR solution, but what in fact is your solution? response?

  7. antonjw August 20, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Exxon appear to be pretty fully behind the American Petroleum Institute, which is using its funding from companies such as Exxon to arrange rallies in America to try to defeat the Democrats’ Climate Change Bill.

    Green Company of the year? You’ve got to be kidding.

  8. Green Islam August 20, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Sorry but just the title makes me sick !

  9. ArchitectureWeek August 20, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    Wow, you really give far too much credence to the absurd pretense for this story.

    Forbes, a “respected outside source” – with regard to sustainability and global warming issues?

    Finally after a great excess of entertaining great icebergs of greenwashing, this piece finally reaches a reasonable conclusion.

    Reach that conclusion sooner, present the framework of the case against ExxonMobil instead of just a quote or two, and don’t, just don’t, lend environmental authority to a great corrupt journalistic bastion of brainless business as usual.

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