Sitting down at breakfast this morning to read my latest issue of the Economist, I came across a full-page Chevron advertisement with an accusatory claim in bold: "You use 25 barrels of oil a year." and then the question, "So are you ready to do something about it?" The ad puzzled me, as why should Chevron care about energy conservation. The more gas I buy, the more money they make.
But since Chevron made a $3.6 billion profit in the third quarter of 2005, maybe they are getting sensitive about their image. These days I can't avoid these contradictory messages from Exxon-Mobil, ADM, Pharma, and Wal-Mart when I tune into NPR, PBS, or crack open a fresh New Yorker or Economist--these elite media outlets are bombarded with soothing Iago-like messages of corporate responsibility and good stewardship. If a person got all their information from these advertisements, they'd believe that Exxon-Mobil loves baby seals, Pharma cared about the uninsured, and Wal-Mart is the best thing for low-wage workers since the weekend.
Chevron has the best spin yet -- turn the responsibility for conservation back on us, the consumers. And they are partially right--resource conservation doesn't happen unless a critical mass of people buy into it. But the people who want to save the world are already doing it. To get the rest of the crowd to do it, you need leadership, innovation, and some dramatic steps by industry. A full-page ad in the Economist costs about $30,000 -- a small price for Chevron to pay to offset the billions it rakes in by doing business as usual.