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BBC World Service l Inside the Global Giants
  Unilever - Cleaning up in Africa
  Unilever - Power in Ghana
  Gazprom - The world's largest gas company
  Gazprom - Modernising a giant
  Levi's - Dilemmas in denim
  Levi's - Balancing ethics with profit
  Shell - Green or mean
  Shell - Future considerations
  Solectron - The invisible multinational
  Solectron - Re-inventing itself
Shell - Green or mean

The energy company Shell operates in 140 countries, and, through its vast chain of petrol filling stations, claims to run the largest retail network in the world.

But being big and successful is not enough for multinationals these days. They also have to be seen to be socially and environmentally responsible.

When its main business is oil and petrol, the burning of which leads to the greenhouse gas emissions thought to cause global warming, can Shell ever possibly claim to be Green?

The difficulty is well illustrated by Shell's participation in the opening up of a vast new oil field in the Athabasca region of western Canada. The reserves here are as large as those known in Saudi Arabia, and their exploitation will help secure the dominance of fossil fuels as the world's main source of energy well into this century.

But their exploitation itself requires the burning of fossil fuels, and that will lead to an increase of almost 50% in Shell Canada's greenhouse gas emissions. To help boost its green credentials, Shell Canada has offered to slash its emissions in the future, as the company's President Tim Faithful told us.

‘We have set a goal of reducing those emissions by half’, Faithful says. ‘The significance of that number is that at that level we will emit less greenhouse gases on a full cycle basis, from the oil well to the other side of the refinery - going into the customer's tank if you like - we'll emit less greenhouse gas with a barrel of our synthetic crude oil than from the average barrel of crude that has been imported into North America.’

Worldwide, Shell says it is successfully reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases that result from its own operations - by 10% since 1990. However this of course takes no account of the emissions caused by Shell's customers burning products derived from newly-opened fossil fuel sources such as Athabasca.

Shell is also investing in so-called renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power. In 1997 it announced a five-year, $500 million plan to develop them.

But the company says that no renewable can as yet compete effectively with fossil fuels in terms of convenience, cost and efficiency. Its own analysis suggests that renewable sources will provide only between 5% and 10% of the world's energy by 2025, possibly rising to 50% by 2050. Athabasca will certainly help fill the gap.

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