Saturday, December 06, 2008

Chevron: Greenwashing by betting hippies can't do math

I hear Chevron touting in their self-greenwashing ads that they've "Improved energy efficiency 27% since 1992". I think they hope people will hear that and think "27% seems like a lot. Maybe they're not evil incarnate."

I hear it and think "1992 was a long time ago. What's the 16th root of 1.27?" I can't take 16th roots in my head. I am dumb.

But this is why God made scientific calculators, or, in my case, Excel. Seems Chevron's been growing efficiency at a whopping 1.5% per year since 1992.

Granted, I'm psyched that they care and are tracking this number, and I'm glad it's positive.

But I wonder:
  • How do they measure efficiency? Energy input for unit of production? Is production measured in dollars or product volume? If I use the same energy to make the same number of units, but sell them for twice as much, I get a lot of energy efficiency gain per dollar of output, but none per unit.
  • How much have other oil companies grown efficiency in the same time frame? Are you better than your industry?
  • How have other industries grown efficiency since 1992? Airlines are psyched for new planes that'll be more efficient. The new 747 gets 3% better economy. The dreamliner is 20% more efficient. Granted all of that doesn't drop to the total economy of the whole operation, and airlines aren't swapping out the whole fleet right away, but I have to bet it makes a hefty dent. And these kinds of gains are a lot bigger than Chevron's 1.5%
If your careful greening efforts dropped your electricity bills 1.5% in a year, would you feel you'd been successful? Would you consider yourself a leader in energy efficient living? Would you brag about it? Granted, doing that every year for 16 years might start to get tough. But I expect advances in technology shouldnt make it that hard to do.

Chevron's pathetic progress tells me they really don't care, and they're numeric misdirection says they think ecologically concerned consumers are morons. I am insulted and saddened by the 27%, not impressed. Go buy a solar start up and try to cannibalize your core business. Then I'll be impressed.