Friday, July 09, 2010

Fuelling Controversy

Consumer boycotts are all the rage - whether it's Nestle, Israeli goods, the British Heart Foundation (seriously - PETA don't like them) or, of course, BP. I've been pondering their efficacy for a while - Nestle is still by some margin the world's largest fmcg business, according to research published in The Grocer magazine - but in particular the viability of a consumer boycott of oil companies like BP and ExxonMobil, with which most of us only come into contact at the petrol pump.

On our way to Knebworth on Sunday, we stopped for petrol at the BP station that sits atop the hill down from the Beautiful Market Town where we live. It was gridlocked - we had to wait the best part of ten minutes for a pump. It was only on pulling out of the garage that it struck me that I had just transacted with the company currently starring in the role of pantomime villain du jour. Whatever your views on the situation (and let me nail my colours to the mast here - if they have to pay for the clean up, then bankrupting them isn't going to help anyone, right?), the fact is that the decision to fill up is invariably such an unplanned one that brand choice is one of the least likely considerations for a motorist. It is a nuisance purchase - I don't know anyone who assiduously tracks their fuel gauge and makes plans for refueling. It is not until the warning light comes on that the driver suddenly remembers that the car does not run on willpower. Confronted by this sudden, and insistent, warning sign, the driver selects the first petrol station available, does the necessary and loads up with a few over-priced stimulants on the way to the till, before departing and trying to shake off the feeling of having been party to a dirty deal.

Picking a petrol brand is not like selecting a brand of sweetie off the shelf. Even in instances where two rival petrol stations are juxtaposed, the driver will surely choose the one with the shortest queue, rather than the one that plants the most trees.

You could argue that motoring is inherently not a "green" past-time, so choosing between brands on the basis of their environmental credentials is a bit like picking England footballers on the basis of value for money. But you could say the same of retail, construction or even agriculture.

How can consumers make their feelings known to energy companies? Other than on blogs, of course.


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