It’s Hard To Skip Through A Field of Daisies, While Wearing Exxon’s Oil-Soaked Boots

Renewable fuels, like solar, wind and biofuels, will grow at a brisk pace but they will account for just 2 percent of the world’s energy supplies by 2030, according to Exxon.
The front page of this morning’s Sunday Business section blares a provocative headline, “Green Is for Sissies.” It’s the mantle for a feature piece on Exxon.
Exxon, the world’s largest corporation with $375 billion in assets, is portrayed as a company entrenched in its own history and success.

While other oil companies try to paint themselves greener, Exxon’s executives believe their venerable model has been battle-tested. The company’s mantra is unwavering: brutal honesty about the need for oil and gas to power economies for decades to come.
“For the foreseeable future — and in my horizon that is to the middle of the century — the world will continue to rely dominantly on hydrocarbons to fuel its economy,” says Rex W. Tillerson, the chief executive of Exxon Mobil.

How does this conservative thinking so prevalent in the corner offices of Irving, Texas align with Exxon’s green-tinted innovation messaging? It doesn’t.

Exxon is squarely focussed on the extraction of resources business they know, the business that’s made them rich beyond comprehension. It’s not my place to argue with their internal strategy. But I will say Exxon is engaged in greenwashing with the express hope of making customers more receptive to their petroleum-based energy offerings. From a corporate communications perspective, Exxon (the brand) isn’t going to just cede that platform to BP.
I think the scientists the brand asked to appear in these ads are genuinely concerned about our collective future on the planet, and that they’re speaking honestly about projects they deeply care about. But it’s like putting “Rudy” in the lineup when the game’s safely in the bag. Yes, Exxon is working on some green solutions, but it’s a side show.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. David,
    this reminds me of Patrick Moore, from co-founder of Greenpeace, he now states that Nuclear is probably the best alternative we have to reduce greenhouse emissions.
    I like this Exxon communicate, as crude as it is.
    Working with the power generation industry, we can see an important shift toward renewable energy sources, but the truth being said, they still count for a small portion of world energy production. With the actual growth the world is facing in certain regions, it is very unlikely they can sustain the energy production required without major investments.
    Also, careful of the hype in renewable energy!

  2. Lorenzo,
    Not sure where to start…perhaps with – careful of the hype in nuclear energy.
    In order for our country to be plugged in like it is now, it required a massive infrastructure investment. Just as we, in the past and now, invest in petroleum, coal, and nuclear with subsidies and public funds for infrastructure, so we need to do do with alternatives that are truly sustainable. Wind, solar, geothermal, etc.
    This is not hype, but rather a hugely needed paradigm shift. Many of us are reluctant of change, which I realize. I also realize that change is the only constant, and for the survival of humans as a species, many changes towards sustainability need to happen, and now. The technology is there – the politics and greed just need to step aside.

  3. I don’t have a problem with the oil companies pumping and selling oil. We actually get an impressive amount of productivity from oil, compared to other products.
    I do have a problem with their decades of buying off politicians and manipulating global politics to gain power, maintain the status quo, and stifle innovation. And honestly, all the greenwashing in the world isn’t going to wash that oily blood off their hands.