I have a growing suspicion that Royal Dutch Shell might actually be taking this whole global warming thing seriously.
Diligence and skepticism are entirely warranted when evaluating the environmental behavior of global industrial players, especially those who have a history of (let's just say) not entirely green behavior. Even projects that pass the initial smell test can end up being less exciting than once hoped (has anyone heard much lately about GE's "Ecomagination" project beyond the TV ads extolling the virtues of coal?) Oil companies are on particularly shaky ground here, as their stock-in-trade is one of the chief culprits behind climate disruption.
That said, it's clear that there's some variation among the major oil companies. BP and Shell, for example, have arguably been more willing to accept the evidence for global warming than has ExxonMobil, and both seem to be more interested in developing non-fossil energy technologies than the other oil companies. To the extent that the efforts are used to promote their own environmental behavior, however, the "greenwashing" label is hard to avoid.
That's what makes Shell's new project, "Springboard," so interesting.
Springboard is Shell's attempt to promote innovative carbon-reducing plans coming from -- and designed for -- small businesses. This promotion comes in the form of money.
Shell Springboard is a pilot programme that seeks to provide a financial boost to a small number of compelling business plans from across the UK. Here’s how it works:
Up to 6 awards of between £20,000 and £40,000 are on offer in each of 3 UK regions
The regions are: Scotland & Northern Ireland, Northern & Central England, Wales & Southern England
The number and quality of entries will determine the number of awards given. Each region has a maximum number of awards it can give, but no minimum
Awards will be made in early 2006
[...] In short, the judges are looking for business plans for a product or service which:
will lead to greenhouse gas reductions
is commercially viable
The deadline for applying for the awards is November 4. Judging will be based on region, but the head judge overseeing the process is Lord Oxburgh. If that name is vaguely familiar, it's because he's the former head of Shell who was quoted last year as saying that he's "really very worried" about human-induced global warming.
Of course, one competition with decent but not spectacular cash rewards does not a revolution make. Big questions still remain about Shell's behavior in the developing world, and even if the company puts the most money of any of the oil majors into renewable energy, it's still a fraction of what they put into finding and refining more petroleum. Diligence and skepticism remain entirely warranted.
But I find this little competition to be much more meaningful than any advertising campaign or catchy slogan. Putting money into helping other companies come up with green innovation is a far better example of "ecomagination" than supermodels covered in faux coal dust. I greatly look forward to seeing what the competitors come up with.
Yes, we should all be sceptical of Shell - the best of the best when it comes to green washing and blue washing.
But just how is a small business grant scheme different to small donations to charities?
They're definitely going after the geek zealots like me when they show shiny logos for XHTML and web accessibility.
That said, even their front page fails validation because of the text used:
Maybe this is a metaphor: there's still some obvious problems for those of us that know where to look. They don't live up to their claims. On the other hand, they seem to know what to strive for and look like they're starting to go in the right direction.
For what it is worth, Shell is one of the backers of Choren (www.choren.com), which has a process for turning generic biomass into diesel fuel. The other partners are VW and Daimler.
One has to wonder: can a large, centralized organization, whose very purpose is growth and shareholder return, even be capable of imagining the changes we need to make?
We act based on the difference between what we want and what exists. When the difference is small, our actions are incremental and cautious, and we quickly exhaust their driving force. How would Royal Dutch Shell characterize the difference between our present energy system and the one we should strive toward? Would it perhaps be summed up as, "There's nothing wrong with the system that we can't fix with some small reforms"?
RDS has been famous for scenario planning, for peering further into the future than most corporations. That's admirable, and should be more widely practiced. But it's a technique, not a transformation of purpose. Planning, like any tool, serves the intentions of those who wield it. This competition, as admirable and heartening as it is, tells us little about overriding purpose.
Shell is the company that came up with the concept of "scenario planning," which begat GBN (Global Business Network) and others. GBN is where Peter Schwartz is (author of "The Long View").
At least Shell is willing to speculate about the future instead of simply wearing blinders. So many industries with limited futures are choosing blinders, and seeking refuge in a well-funded Congress for help shaping the future on their behalf.
Kinda reminds me of coloring within the lines--before the lines have been drawn.
Actauly exxonwhatever is fully aware that oil is at the halfway point they just choose to work with thier strengths and stick with oil for the next 30-40 years. Thats a sound bussiness choice as oil will only get more profitable not less and by the time they need to open into other lines of operation the costs to do so will be low and they will be able to buy into any company they so choose with thier oil profits.
I expect exxon to have a trillion in assets by the time they need to buy into something else.
At least Shell wanted to build 110 big off-shore wind turbines here in Belgium. Sadly, the government didn't like the plans... Those idiots...