Have we gone through the looking glass? Is up down and black white? Forbes magazine has named ExxonMobil its “Green Company of the Year.” Yes, the company that environmentalists love to hate, the largest oil producer in the world, one of the black hats to climatologists, has been cited for the steps it has taken to help reduce carbon emissions.
Specifically, ExxonMobil has been honored for its increased investments into natural gas, a cleaner-burning and more plentiful source of energy than petroleum. ExxonMobil is about to finish a $30 billion project to develop the world’s biggest natural gas field in the Persian Gulf state of Qatar.
According to Forbes, “all the big oil companies” are drifting away from petroleum to natural gas. If it has the numbers right, there's good reason to cheer. The magazine reports that per unit of energy delivered, methane releases 40 percent to 50 percent less carbon dioxide than coal and a quarter less than petroleum. “Coal fuels half of U.S. power generation. Replacing all of it with methane would cut CO2 emissions by 1 billion tons a year.”
The story really leaves a different impression of ExxonMobil and its environmental concerns than an article last November in the New York Times that was headlined “Green is for Sissies.” The thrust of that piece was that demand for ExxonMobil’s product continues to rise, leaving us with the conclusion that the company wasn’t about to change until its customers changed.
But in fact, it would probably be difficult to find a major corporation in the U.S. that isn’t taking steps to improve its environmental impact. They may still not be virtuous enough to make any “Buy” lists among managers of socially responsible funds, but they are changing. General Electric is a major player in solar energy. Wal-Mart may still have labor problems, but it has lightened its environmental impact by reducing packaging from suppliers and changing is delivery systems. It’s not because the managers of those companies are all environmentalists or social activists. They realize taking such steps is good for business in the long run.
Forbes' endorsement probably won’t change the poor opinion hard-core environmentally responsible investors have of ExxonMobil. But it would suggest the company is headed in the right direction from their point of view.