Focus: Corporate Responsibility - Oil giant to finance advice training for volunteers

ExxonMobil will work together with three UK charities, but Greenpeace has warned of a 'greenwash', writes Anita Pati.

ExxonMobil, which posted annual profits of $36bn (£21bn) earlier this year, is to work with three UK charities in a project to tackle fuel poverty.

The world's largest publicly quoted oil company, which trades as Esso in Britain, has announced the Energy Challenge project as part of its CSR strategy. It will work with CSV, National Energy Action and Energy Action Scotland.

Exxon will fund 150 volunteers from CSV's Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme to visit 3,000 vulnerable households in Greater London and Stirling in Scotland and offer tips on avoiding fuel poverty.

The volunteers will advise on home insulation, cheap energy-saving measures, health risks such as damp and condensation and how to apply for benefits and grants. If successful, the pilot could be extended to Aberdeen after the programme ends in December 2007.

Although Exxon will not disclose how much it is investing in the programme, it will pay NEA and EAS to provide the certified energy efficiency training for the volunteers over three days and for two full-time co-ordinators to manage the programme for a year.

Robert Olsen, chairman of ExxonMobil International, said: "ExxonMobil recognises that energy demand is growing and that informing people now about energy efficiency will help meet the challenges ahead."

The charities defended their involvement with Exxon, which has a controversial record on environmental protection.

"Energy Challenge fits in with CSV's drive to engage people with their communities through volunteering and training," said a CSV spokesman.

"As ExxonMobil is prepared to give us the resources to do this, people will get advice on having their homes insulated to reduce fuel expenditure, and our innovative, cost-effective approach will build a pathway for others to follow in other locations."

Maria Wardrobe, publicity manager at NEA, said:"People may be cynical about the fact that the NEA is working with such fat cats, but you've got to start somewhere. If we work with them, they may go on to bigger and better things."

However, a Greenpeace spokesman said: "It's unfortunate CSV is being used by Exxon to brush up its tarnished brand. We understand why a small group would not want to turn down help from the world's richest company.

But any attempt by Exxon to greenwash its image has to be set against its unprecedented record of deception and denial on climate change."

An Exxon spokesman said: "We take the issue of climate change extremely seriously and are investing in many industry-leading actions to improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions."

anita.pati@haynet.com

KEY POINTS

- Oil company ExxonMobil has announced that it will work with Community Service Volunteers, National Energy Action and Energy Action Scotland as part of its Energy Challenge scheme

- The company will fund 150 volunteers from CSV's Retired and Senior Volunteer Programme to visit households in London and Stirling, offering advice on avoiding fuel poverty

- The charities have defended their involvement with Exxon, which has attracted criticism from green groups

- However, Greenpeace has described the project as an attempt by Exxon to 'greenwash' its image.

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