Environmental Activism and Donations Among Oil Companies

Whether it is for public relations purposes, government penalty, or out of a genuine concern for the environment, corporations contribute to causes that aim to preserve the environment. There are several ways in which corporations make these contributions. Corporate donations of profits towards various environmental causes is perhaps the easiest to understand, but there are others as well. In some cases, corporations form partnerships with citizen environmental organizations, contributing materials and funds to the work of these organizations. Also, corporations can participate in programs within their industry to strive towards more responsible corporate behavior, in conjunction with other corporations. Examples of each of these types of environmentally-focused corporate activities have occurred in Louisiana, each of which I will describe.
As is the case with many oil companies, Royal Dutch/Shell Energy has devoted a section of its website to discussing the importance of the environment to the business it conducts. Among the points of interest on the site, Shell has a section on the environment and society, which includes information on how it has worked towards sustainable development, policies and standards it uses in regard to the environment, and records of how it is performing in conjunction with the environment (22). This information relates to the public how Shell plans to carry out responsibility, including the various actions it chooses to take. For example, Shell has shown activity recently in Louisiana in partnership with the America’s Wetlands: Campaign to Save Coastal Louisiana program, providing funds to the program on two occasions. In August 2002, Shell donated $3 million to America’s Wetlands’ educational fund (7), and it also donated $800,000 in 2004 to the program for educational materials distribution (3). The America’s Wetlands program raises awareness on the significance, both economically and ecologically, of the Louisiana coast (7). Though speculations may abound over the motives for these contributions, as to whether the materials absolve oil companies from responsibility, the willingness of Shell to contribute to awareness of environmental problems, consistent with its corporate policy, should be seen as a step in the right direction.

Here is a website that has a video called "Don't Be a Big Loser", chronicling the problem of land loss in Louisiana. It was made by America's Wetland. Take a look to see the type of education materials that oil companies and environmental groups are producing.

America'sWetland logo comes from:

Perhaps in an effort to make public its efforts of corporate responsibility, Exxon Mobil publishes its corporate donations, and includes them on its website. In a recent year, 2003, Exxon Mobil donated $106 million in contributions, with 72.6 million going to recipients in the United States. Unfortunately, donations to the “Environment” category were the lowest of the categories in both cases, with $1.2 million (2% of total) going towards this section in the United States, and $4 million (4% of total) going towards this section throughout the world (see Figures 1 and 2 for comparison).

Some of the environmental causes in Louisiana that Exxon Mobil donated to included the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, for Summits for America’s Wetland; the Grand Isle Port Commission for the Grand Isle Butterfly Dome; the Nature Conservancy, Inc. of Baton Rouge; the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation in Meraux, LA for a fish nursery, and finally a donation to the State of Louisiana for conservation of Catahoula Lake. Outside of Louisiana, Exxon has donated to several universities for scientific research, various natural groups and trusts, and organizations looking to protect endangered species (5). Though these efforts to donate to environmental causes are on the low end of the donations, they represent a starting point, towards what may one day be greater donations by Exxon towards preserving the environment.

ELP Logo comes from:

The third possible plan of action for corporations who seek to improve the environment is commitments within an industry towards a common goal. In some cases, this is a voluntary agreement, such as the Louisiana Environmental Leadership Pollution Prevention Program. This program is designed for industries in Louisiana to apply and agree to reduce the level of pollution they produce, in a show of responsibility to the environment. The guiding principles include reducing waste through following the waste hierarchy, using internal measures to regulate and improve environmental performance, communication with people associated with the company to identify areas where the corporation can improve its interaction with the environment, and prioritizing human and environmental health (13). Louisiana has had several oil companies, both large and small, participate in this program: Chevron, CITGO, Exxon Mobil (4 different facilities), Motiva, Shell (2 different facilities) and Tosco Refining (12). That so many different oil companies are interested in working towards lower pollution displays what hopefully will become a larger trend: corporate responsibility within industries that is not forced by the hand of government.