Can Big Oil Companies also Do Good?

We seem to be piggybacking off of each other here around Green Options lately – reading each others’ posts and writing new posts based on them. I just finished reading the post that Adam Williams wrote earlier today, World Naked Bike Ride: Is Anything Gained by Protesting Oil Dependency in the Buff?, and in the post he mentions that Last week ExxonMobil reported a record-setting $11.7B in second-quarter profits. These profits were gained, of course, at a time when Americans are paying more for gas at the pumps than they ever have in the past.

His post reminded me of something else I read earlier today, something else that had to do with ExxonMobil last week. On August 1, 40 local Dallas area high school students graduated from the 27th Annual ExxonMobil Green Team program. According to ExxonMobil’s website,

The ExxonMobil Green Team Program is a summer youth employment program where students are paid to participate in cleanup, environmental and beautification projects, as well as construction projects in public parks and economically depressed neighborhoods throughout the United States.

Dallas isn’t the only place ExxonMobil sponsors this program. It’s currently run in 9 U.S. cities. Students not only participate in environmental activities but they also work on basic academic skills in reading, math and writing and are taught the importance of education.

I love programs like this. Education is one of the keys for youth in economically depressed communities to rise above what many expect from them. And programs like these are not cheap to run. It takes a lot of money to pull something like this together. ExxonMobil works through non-profits and volunteer organizations in the individual cities to make the program happen. In Dallas alone, the oil company has donated 6.1 million dollars for The Green Team program since 1981.

I’m also torn by programs like this. I wonder, are they like the “smoking is bad for you – don’t do it” campaigns that the tobacco companies are required to provide to youth which are pretty much a joke? Or do they come out of a genuine concern for trying to find solutions to our environmental woes and trying to help youth at the same time?

ExxonMobile claims its concerned about the environment, but the majority of their profits come from a product that harms the environment. It’s a product that I use a lot less of than I used to, but still use it probably more than I need to. And here, I’m torn, too. Should I be outraged by the profits that this company is earning? If consumers (and I’m one of them) bought less of their product, their profits would be a lot less. In a way, I’m contributing to what many see as a problem.

I’m left with a lot of questions and uncertainties this morning mulling around in my head and no definitive answers. That’s not unusual for me. It often takes me a long time to work these things through. For the next few days I’ll be wondering, “Can big oil companies also do good?” But there is one thing I don’t need to work through. I’m going to be happy for these 40 Dallas area students who had the opportunity to go through this program no matter who funded them.

They came in contact with adults who care about them and their future. They got an education that they can’t get in the public school classroom – an education that may have changed their lives for the better. Perhaps one of them caught the environmentalism bug and will end up studying it in college and go on to find the perfect solution for our energy problems. Who knows?

Image from ExxonMobile

Read more:

My Date with the Giant: ExxonMobile Responds to Global Warming Report and Allegations

Poll: Most American’s Don’t Think More Drilling Will Lower Gas Prices

  1. Adam Williams

    Great thoughts, Robin. I’ve been noticing British Petroleum ads/billboards of late trying to woo us with their interest in being green. And, being a cynic, I wonder how much of their efforts are going into alternative fuels, etc., as compared to the oil interests. It seems like a greenwashing ploy.

    But, as you’ve reasoned out with this example of ExxonMobil’s youth program, there have to be some positives happening, too. It’s a tough riddle, I think, and one I’ll keep giving thought to.

    Maybe if we keep bouncing posts off one another, we’ll figure out something.

  2. Robin Shreeves

    Adam – I think my favorite ad from this summer of a not green company greenwashing is one I keep hearing on the radio for lawn fertilizer. I can’t be 100% sure of which company is running it, so I won’t mention the name, but the gist of the ad is that this chemical fertilizer will save water because it grows a type of grass that needs to be watered less. So sure, dump chemicals all over your lawn that will leach down into the water system and harm the local animals, but feel good that you’ve saved a few gallons of water.

    I too am very cynical of any mainstream company that advertises their “greeness.”

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