Image Crisis at British Petroleum
Bp’s BRAND IMAGE More packaging than substance ? Introduction: Corporate image symbolises the values an organisation stands for. Organizations can create it to define themselves or get branded due to their actions. Therefore, its more important to have a the right image that reflect an organization’s commitment to quality, excellence and its constructive role in the society. British Petroleum (BP) is a major enterprise to redefine its core values in the light of its ethical considerations.
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It is an example of antagonism between its core business and it’s core values. Since years it has been subject of criticism more than any other oil producer for failing to deliver on its commitments of environmental protection, ethical business model and health / safety procedures. A series of accidents have also undermined BP’s credibility of going green and the range of disparity between its business values and business practices is anyones guess.
In order to assess the extent to which BP has been successful, we will equate its position with respect to the extrinsic factors like industry macro-drivers, strategy implementation, crisis management and intrinsic factors such as size, capital, costs, technology and location. It is the change of dynamics between these extrinsic and intrinsic factors that decides the amount of resources that can be allocated to bring about any change. We will also aim to explore how BP is affected by dynamics of a business sector on which its customers are rather dependent and shareholders who are looking for the return on their investment.
The kind of leverage BP has to sideline its ethical commitments and favor profit generation. There are unexploited oil reserves in this highly profitable industry and switching to alternative energy solutions cannot viably offset current technologies brought about by years of research and billiols in investment. How does BP plan to manage this change across the company and time of implementation is debatable. “Bp’s internal culture is characterized by intense pressure to keep the costs down and budgeting always took precedence over routine maintenance and occasionally over safety. ” – Forbes
The business ethics that are followed in this sector are questionable and BP is no exception. Seemingly the company has protocols setup for operation but due to the rapid expansion of the oil industry, these have to be adapted to the local conditions that leads to complacency and rearrangement of ethical priorities. This results in a business mechanism where the core values does not filter down to the grass root level. The ethics of any organization is comprised of the individuals representing it. Customizing ethics with respect to the operating environment increases heterogeneity in values which is not permissible. the values are real, but they haven’t been aligned with our business practice in the field… a scream at our level is, if anything, a whisper at their level. ” – anonymous BP executive quoted by Fortune magazine There are challenges faced by BP as well to bring about changes. Change in technology is relatively easier than to bring change in attitude. Being continuously under the scrutiny of environmental agencies like green peace and WWF it is hard for the company to invest into alternative energy considering the profit it is making from the existing operations.
Moreover, it is understandable that BP is a business concern that generates profit and not a charity, therefore it would be unfair to ask it for a paradigm shift in its policies and operations. It has made mistakes and hopefully learnt from it, there is actually no intention of reinventing the wheel. Therefore, the aim of this article is analyse the success BP has had since it was rebranded and whether its actions are in line with its green strategy or result of a covert master plan. Overview of the study:
In this study we aim justify if BP is taking concrete steps to go green. We will cite examples and then examine how they translate in the light of stakeholder management, business ethics and crisis management and their political, economic, social, technologcal, environmental and legal effects (PESTEL). These management, ethics and PESTEL phenomenon occour differently in different strata of any organisation, their understanding is even more important as these individual processess lead to a cascade of events that define the actions of an organisation.
Therefore, in most of the cases BP’s green credentials have to be judged as consequences rather than results of these processes. Stakeholder Management: A key issue in stakeholder management is the identification of ‘key’ stake holders which in turn helps an organization to filter out its ‘strategic’ stakeholders. “A stakeholder in an organization ( by definition) any group or individual which can affect or is affected by the achievements of the organizations objectives. ” (Freeman 1984, Pg 46).
Therefore, in order to maximize profits, stakeholders have to be prioritized on the basis of their affect or the organization. Stakeholders that can affect the management of the organization need to be handled instrumentally but if the firms decisions affect the well being of the stakeholders, then it is just a case of moral obligation (Berman et al. , 1999). They can also be categorized no the basis of their interest, claim or ownership in the organization and its activity (Clarkson 1995), where as equal merit should also be given to any consideration that a stakeholder might have (Donaldson & Preston 1995).
In the case of BP, we can clearly see that there is a genuine attempt to give equal merit to all its stakeholders. Even more so as its new branding scheme credits the environment as its stakeholder to which it ideally only has a moral obligation. Environmental organization maintains that BP is still ‘toying’ with the idea or going green (Barley, 2009) and on the company website the green trademark has been replaced with the commitment to be ‘Responsible’. (Barley 2009) One can only imagine the internal and external forces that come into play while corporate decisions are made.
Primary stakeholder have an upper hand in influencing corporate decisions and an organization survival may depend on their continuous participation. Shareholders and investors, employees, suppliers are considered to be the primary stakeholders in an organization while secondary stakeholders constitute groups that are not essential for the direct functioning of an organization but are influenced or affected by it (Clarkson, 1995). Secondary stakeholders have a unique participation that they can mould people perception and have a major impact by striking interaction between stakeholders.
Imperical studies have demonstrated that firms with different levels of commitment to environmental issues vary in managers perceptions of which groups of stakeholders is important (Buysse and Verbeke, 2003; Harvey and Schemer, 2001; Henriques and Sadorsky, 1999; Hoffman, 1996). BP being a profitable organization gives justice to this model. An insight into the this area leads to the fact that it has given good return on investment for its investors and ranks good on employee satisfaction surveys (BP Annual Review 2008). It is well known that the supply chain has always been happy in this generally profitable business sector.
Considering customer satisfaction, the subject becomes debatable as their primary focus is on the fuel in their vehicles rather than its producer or its methods of production. Agle (1999, Pg 508) advocates that the importance of stake holders on attributes such as ligitimacy, power, urgency. Organization however big or small have limited resources where these attributes provide additional criteria for identifying and prioritizing stakeholders. Legitimacy refers to a legal or contractual obligation and categorizes shareholders and investors having interest in the harms and benefits generated by a company’s actions.
Power is the ability to influence a firm’s behavior. Again it can be deduced that power comes to legimate stakeholders. Urgency is a dynamic component for a stakeholder to grab attention of managers. BP seems to adhere very strongly to above theory as we can see that the secondary stakeholders like environmental and health & safety concerns do not feature high in its priority list. BP codes demands requiring immediate attention or change implementation as one and for future attention as zero.
In year 2000 four environmental NGO’s lead the boycott of British Petroleum requesting it to pledge to avoid drilling operations in Alaska. This request was coded as zero (LexisNexis Academic, 2003). Bp’s Alaskan Northstar operation began production in the same year. It is also noteworthy that bp has done very well as an organization by contradicting a Harvard study that concludes that the companies that prioritize shareholders did less well for their stakeholders as compared to companies that put equal weightage on both (Caulkin and Black, 1994; Kotter and Heskett, 1992).
Along with profit generation and market penetration, it has also expanded its product portfolio to alternative energy like solar energy, wind farms etc. ( However, it has not provided any explanation as to why it regards natural gas as alternative energy). As stakeholders, environmental agencies like greenpeace are its biggest critiques but other than that it ranks high on corporate social responsibilities initiatives like social innovation, energy efficiency, operating efficiency, product emission and research on renewable sources of energy (BP 2004).
Its alternative energy division has been downsized to department as they have reported losses of $900 million in Q1 2009 due to sales slump and $193 million in Q108 (Yarrow, J. , 2009). Understandably, this decision should have been taken due to economic feasibility since BP as a business seeks profitability rather than investing funds in loss making operations. Therefore, viewing BP’s stakeholder management in the light of strategy implementation, we can see that fundamental changes in its business processes actually comprise its very long term strategy.
It might be due to the fact that its secondary shareholders are miniscule considering its financial and political might within an industry that operates in an essential commodity business sector where it is hard, if not impossible, to persuade its customers to abstain using its products. It gives fair credit to political and economic aspects of PESTEL. Primary stakeholders have been prioritised and secondary stakeholders like society and environment have been sidelined. It is difficult to be profit oriented and environmentally comitted in this industry sector.
The closest it has gone for being green on enviromental sustainability is cleaner energy that primarily focuses on process efficiency and carbon offset farms. In the current scenario it looks like BP’s strategy is to align stakeholders with its own business policies rather than implementing changes that reflect stakeholders’ concerns. Business Ethics: It is defined as the study of business situations, activities and decisions where the issues of right and wrongs are concerned (Crane and Matten, 2007). The fundamentals of business ethics have been deduced from applied ethics.
By taking business environment into account, it addresses decision making when moral or ethical problems arise. Being a normative discipline, it provides a framework of values by averaging or bordering. It means that a decision being ethical or unethical actually depends on the situation and the environment where it may or may not be morally and socially acceptable. BP has had major criticism for unethical practices due to its collaboration with apartheid governments, exploration in protected areas, use of force in West Papua, Columbia, Azerbaijan, inadequate adherence to safety and most notably failing to deliver on its green initiatives.
Bp’s trade agreements with the Souch African government under apartheid is a classis case where BP even denied to report its involvement ( Tutu, D. , et. Al, 2002). BP along with other major oil companies paid levy to South African government’s Strategic Oil Fund which financed SASOL to produce fuel for domestic transport (Burton, B. , 1998), which seriously undermined the effect of sanctions. However, it explained that embargoed oil was exported twice but that was an error. Like all other oil companies operating there, it said that it was compelled to purchase oil through the State Fuel Fund. Burton, B. , 1999) Bp’s publicly support to the Bush government to open oil drilling in Arctic National Wildife Refuge in Alaska and continues to explore in environmentally sensitive areas like the Atlantic Frontier, foothills of Andes and Alaska (Beder, S. , 2002). In 2001 PEER (Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility) reseased the survey results of ADEC employees that suggested that there is a widespread perception of regulatory favoritism towards the petroleum industry, political arm-twisting of pollution enforcement and waek agency leadership (Ruch, J. 2002). Bp’s move to extract oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada is another example where BP is involved in extraction involving process which is five time more energy intensive and equally polluting. BP does state its advantages of such a dirty extraction process but there are few takers. (http://www. bp. com, 2007) It has been widely reported that BP uses force and in some cases collaborates with defence agencies to start or continue its production abroad and sometimes prosecute opposing fractions.
In West Papua, BP has been developing athe massive Tangguh gas project at Benton Bay, where it has tried hard to gain community support by proclaiming its intention to avoid the disasters occurred while other companies were operating there. Rather than gaining community approval it has tied up with the Indonesian military. In March 2003, Bp was warned by US senator George Mitchell that it could trigger human rights abuses based on the fact that indonesian military would be deployed to guard its Tangguh LNG facilities (Macalister, T. , 2003).
In Columbia, BP has been accused of making deals with local security forces and introduced voluntary principles while contracting private security providers and trying to ensure their implementation later (Warner, M. , 2002). BP was yet again in human rights vioation during the execution of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline project connecting operations in the caspian sea to the medeterranean sea. It was accused osf sidelining the rights of Turkish villagers and environmental authorities as it struck a deal which exempted it from its environmental, social and human rights laws.
Moreover, this deal included the fact that the pipeline would remain outside Ankara’s jurisdiction for its lifetime (Brown, P. , 2002). In March 2006, a sever corrosion was detected in the Purdhoe Bay oil transit line resulting in an oil spill. In June 2006 BP’s North America division was charged for illegal profit of $20 million by manipulating propane prices. In September 2006, 1000 barrels of oil was spilled at BP’s port of Long Beach, California due to rupture in its underground pipeline. In 2005 there was an explosion in its Texas refinery that killed 15 and injured more than 170.
A government enquiry was carried out issuing fines and recommendations. Payment of fines was hardly a dent in its balance sheet but new health and safety management systems were incorporated such as OMS (Organisational Management System) and ERNP (Environmental Requrements for New Projects). Since 2007 there has been no reports on any accidents or mishaps so far. After the pipeline and Texas refinery disasters it went for damage control with a series of public relation campaigns, mainly in North America.
There were adverts in newspapers, parties, barbrques, celebrity receptions, road shows, footrace etc. In 2007 it went for a US wide campaign called ‘Helios Power’ through newspapers, radio and television. One might wonder why such initiatives were not taken in other parts of the world, where it primarily settled lawsuits with monotory compensation, notably in the case of Columbiam farmers (Verkaik, R. , 2006). There can be no doubt that human rights abuse in Turkey could go unnoticed as BP had already made legal arrangements to circumvent it.
It really is a blemish that would take long to wash off. Human rights grops have questioned BP’s business ethics and corporate culture it operates within. If a corporation can go against governments would it head to its citizens’ concerns; doubtful. Print and visual media is also to be credited as they break these news all over the world so that the people become more concious about the blood-fuel that is being delivered to them. Keeping strategy implementation in focus, it seems like its current strategy is to gamble and take chances.
Its financial and political might does give it leverage to do so which could also be the root of this problem. Interestingly, BP in 2002 has also stated that it woll no longer offer donations to political parties as they have no democratic legitimacy anywhere in the world (Cowell, A,. 2002). It indicates that there were donations made that might have lead to malpracitces. With this many number of environmental blunders under its belt, its environmental credentials have hit rockbottom.
In terms of basic ethical standards such as honesty, trustworthiness and co-operation (Collins 1994; Watson 1994), BP has set wrong examples that might, in future, undermine the commitment it enjoys from its investors and shareholders. CRISIS MANAGEMENT: Crisis management is a process that enables an organisation to manoevour under unpredictable situations which may threaten to harm the organisation, its stakeh olders or general public. Common challenges faced in a crisis situation is that of threat to the organisation, element of surprise and short decision time (Seeger et. l. 1998). Due to the large ambit of a crisis situation and organisation wide reach of the process a hybrid term has been coined called business crisis and continuity management (BCCM) (Shaw, G. , 2005). It has also been defined as the farmework that integrates strategic business protection, response & recovery and business continuity (Mitroff and Pauchant 1992, Mitroff 2001) (Fink 1986). Bp’s crisis management strategy suggests that it is accomodating rather than proactive. There have been instances like the Alaskan and Longbeach oil spill, Texas refinery disaster.
Something common in all these situation is that fact that BP executives were swift enough to apologise and stop production but fact of the matter is that the fines and compensation it paid out hardly made a dent in its balance sheet. It has coerced stakeholders, made illegal government deals in Turkey, abused human rights in Azerbaijan, exploited environmentally sensitive areas and even denied involvement in worngdoings in South Africa shows the deapth of its crisis management. After the Texas refinery inqust, health and safety protocols like OMS and ERNP were introduced and will be tested over time.
If the abovementioned situations are not regarded as crisis than what is? If these crises are catagoried ( Coombs 1999; Lerbinger 1997), BP has faced nearly all of them like technological, confrontational, malevolence, deception, organisational misdeeds and management misconduct. Falling back on the MItroff, Pauchant and Fink definition, BP does prform well in terms of business protection and business continuity but has failed to provide industry leading examples of response and recovery in any crisis situation. These crices situation have brought massive negative public relation to BP.
Even more so the heavyhanded approach towards their resolution and recovery further exposed the rift there exists between BP policies and actions. Its blatent disregard for the very objectives it stands for proves that afterall it is an oil company and will remain one until these resources are exhausted and alternative energy becomes equally profitable. The need for rebranding and what BP got out of it: “Its not a matter of competition. Its a matter of different character. ” -BP exchief executive John Browne Bp’s rebranding campaign is still considered a success story.
With the acquisition of US based Amoco and ARCO (Atlantic Richfield Corp), access to the north american market, Amoco and ARCO brand ceased to exist and being catapulted in the big league was an ideal situation for rebranding the organization as a whole. This exercise in year 2000 brought two kinds of changes. Visibly, the old shield logo metamorphosed into a Helios sunburst with white yellow and green colours thereby defining the company as innovative, progressive, environmentally responsible and performance driven (Mufson, S. and Eilperin, J. (2006), and declared BP to stand for ‘Beyond Petroleum’.
Psychologically it initiated a change in attitude and future orientation of the business as an energy company. This led to a series of organizational and leadership changes. This change in logo is seen with sarcasm these day as year 2000 and onwards BP has been associated with accidents, oil spills, government enquiries, protests, global warming etc. The effectiveness of BP’s new brand and the public relations can be judged on defintion given by Grunig and Hunt (1984) which stated that a non-product advertisement as being concept, general promotion, goodwill, image, issue, personality and responsibility.
With the juxtaposition of being green to being responsible, BP has practically achieved these with its new brand but their realisation seem farfetched. CONCLUSION: Being green or not, it is important to consider that it is the people who make our society, inhabit the planet and will be most affected by issues like pollution and global warming. The managers in BP breathe the same air and hopefully do understand their moral responsibilities.
Is it a race between oil majors to make maximum profits because one day or another final damage will be done? Green colour is not all about environment but it also signifies life. Being green is about respecting life. Its is hard to consider an oil giant to be environmentally sensitive if it earns $25 billion a year and pland to invest $8 billion over a period of ten years on alternative energy sources. BP has strady increased its profits year on year and the above figures correspond to year 2005.
Since then its alternative energy subsidiary has been downsized to a department, getting even lesser funding. Other than environment, it has topographically and geologically disturbed the ecosystem, thereby causing irrepairable damage. In addition to bringing harm to the environment it has also taken resort to political lobbying, human rights abuse is South America and collaborated with apartheid government of South Africa. Going to these extremes clearly shows that it is a concious attemp on BP’s side to move away from its environmental claims.
Moreover, the people that have been subjected to its abuses feel compromised as the benefits of their resources is being concenrated elsewhere. Bp’s Bold move to explore oil in environmentally sensitive areas have drawn a lot of flak from agencies such as Greenpeace, Public Interest Research Group Education Fund (PRIG) and Amnesty International. “BP contends that it should be allowed to drill in sensitive areas because it has the ability to operate in a manner that will not harm these unique places,” “We disagree with that argument.
The best way to preserve biodiversity and important protected areas is not by making a ‘best practices’ gamble but to not operate there at all. ” – Justin Tatham, PRIG representative There is no match to the long term damage caused by oil companies in general, but they are not to blamed alone. It is the world’s insatiable thirst for oil from which these companies derive motivation to move forward with the plan. It is also a plausable excuse that if BP doesn’t enter a market other oil majors will, but its still worth a try on moral grounds.
In order to extract oil cheaply political and military collaborations forged and put common public on the receieving end. The importance of controlling production assets has gained impetus recently as countries like Russia and Venezuela are using their oil exports as political tools and there might be a day when BP’s political lobbyists may ask for its favour. Therefore, considering its working practices, orgsnisation culture, business ethics, shifting priorities and ambiguous future strategies, it can be clearly seen that BP has not lived up to the expectations.
Its going to be a decade since BP rebranded itself, this journey of transformation has been marred by accidents, employee unrests, management shuffling and awards for being the worst performing company by Greenpeace. In 2008, BP was awarded ‘Emerald Paintbrush’ award for the worrst green-wash of the year, which speaks reams about what BP has achieved with its green commitment (Jossc 2008). It can only be hoped that BP has learned from its mistakes and responsibility has also been added to its commitments, it translates these commitments into business practices to ‘think out of the barrel’ and assimilate the green vision it stands for.
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