by Michael dEstries
Categories: People
Tags: .

As the disaster in the Gulf drags past day 72 — and more photos and videos of wildlife suffering in its wake leak online — the measure of BP’s worth as brand continues to plummet. Of all the celebrities out there, this might be of the greatest concern to Edward Norton.

Several years ago, the actor approached BP Solar — a division of the oil company focused on photovoltaic systems — about partnering with him and the Enterprise Foundation on a charitable initiative that would bring renewable energy to those in need. “I proposed to them that in an effort to kind of bring different forces to bear on all these issues,” he told Larry King in 2004, “that if we create a program whereby it’s celebrities, or public figures of any sort, purchase a solar system for their homes, that BP would donate a matching system to a low-income family and eliminate their electricity bills forever.”

“And so amazingly they went for it,” he added. “They’ve been phenomenal, BP.” And thus, BP Solar Neighbors was born.

Since then, the program really has helped people in and around Los Angeles. Celebrities like Will Ferrell, Pierce Brosnan, Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Brad Pitt, and Salma Hayek (among others) have all participated.

But it’s a curious problem to be faced with. BP Solar obviously has nothing to do with the oil spill in the Gulf — and yet, there’s that name BP; which has taken on curse-word status around the country. One has to wonder whether future efforts to recruit celebrities to participate might fail simply because of the parent company’s branding.

Obviously, I’d hate to see such a great program disappear, but would it be that hard for Norton to find a replacement company? I’m sure a big renewable energy player like First Solar or Sharp Solar would love the opportunity to participate.

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About Michael dEstries

Michael has been blogging since 2005 on issues such as sustainability, renewable energy, philanthropy, and healthy living. He regularly contributes to a slew of publications, as well as consulting with companies looking to make an impact using the web and social media. He lives in Ithaca, NY with his family on an apple farm.

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  • Sandra Sellani

    This must be a difficult situation for Edward Norton who is known for his integrity and positive associations with pro-environmental causes. While the BP brand has crashed and burned many times over, I don’t believe it would be helpful to throw out the baby with the oily bathwater. Continuing the relationship with BP Solar provides an opportunity to reinforce the mission a great partnership. The Enterprise Foundation is an innovative charitable organization that formed a resourceful collaboration with BP Solar to further leverage their own brand promise of developing sustainable housing for low income families. It would be a shame to dissolve a partnership that was created for all the right reasons.

    A brand is made up of collective impressions over time and while BP Solar’s good deeds may never undo the brand damage of the parent company, it can still continue to provide examples of how environmentally conscious companies should function. Rather than make it a black and white issue and drop the relationship, it would make sense to address the issue publicly, acknowledge that this is a difficult dilemma, and reiterate the initial purpose of the partnership to create affordable, green communities. The world still needs good examples of organizations that are doing the right thing.

    Sandra Sellani, Brand Strategist, Author and Consultant

    • Michael d'Estries

      Great points all around, Sandra. Thanks for weighing in. It will definitely be interesting to see where they decide to take things from here.

  • Remy C.

    Has BP Solar really done everything it can to market solar electricity? Or has it simply been a greenwashing opportunity for the company?

  • Melanie Dawn Molina Wood

    Although it is understandable to be suspicious of anything BP does, I also think that boycotting BP Solar because of BP Oil is a mistake. If we want companies like BP to invest in green technology, they will have to see that it is profitable for them. Support BP Solar (and watchdog them to keep that division honest) while continuing to speak out against BP Oil.