Climate Conscious
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Climate Conscious

TotalEnergies: The Rebranding No One Talks About

How the oil giant metamorphosed right before COP26

Evolution of the logo: Total becomes TotalEnergies. Source.

Total looked all nice for COP26, and it didn’t even get the media coverage it deserves. Yet when it comes to oil supermajors, this kind of cosmetic change is not innocuous, let alone innocent.

On May 28th, CEO Patrick Pouyanné announced a complete brand makeover: Total became TotalEnergies, “written as one word, he said, with the plural expressing all the energies and all the talents that make up [the] company.” Total wants to embody the green transition with more nuances: Pouyanné opts for a multi-colored logo “to express the plurality of energies.”

So far Total has been slipping through the cracks of climate responsibility, but an important report published a couple months ago is changing everything. French researchers found that, just like its partners in crime BP, Chevron, Exxon, and Shell, TotalEnergies knew about the catastrophic consequences of burning fossil fuels 50 years ago, but “began promoting doubt regarding the scientific basis for global warming by the late 1980s.” The rebranding of Total illustrates the very last stage of its propaganda, the one of no longer denying climate change but rather delaying policies that interfere with business as usual.

COP26 has clearly been a pivotal moment for big oil companies which have been trying to lobby the UK government to impede a rapid shift away from fossil fuels. With this corporate facelift, Patrick Pouyanné wanted to make sure he’s seen as one of the good guys in the run-up to the Glasgow conference.

TotalEnergies is the new “beyond petroleum,” the promise that the oil giant will further invest in renewable energies and the pledge that it’ll do more good…but never less harm. In fact, TotalEnergies still dedicates 99.7% of its mix to fossil fuels and continues to develop new devastating drilling projects in East Africa and in the Arctic.

You’ll understand that the logo’s color palette — which is intended to represent the seven energies in which the company will invest (oil, natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, biomass, wind, and solar) — is not quite proportionate.

In addition to (mis)representing energies, would this mix of dyes not be reminiscent of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals? The multicolored framework is claimed to be used by TotalEnergies Foundation to measure its contribution to society. TotalEnergies hopes to be immune from lynch mobs by letting people know that, no kidding, fossil fuels are good for both them and the planet. Pouyanné explains this shorthand in a Q&A published on Twitter: oil and gas are “just essential for life, for economic and social development, for lifting people out of poverty” he says proudly. And fossil fuels can’t be that bad for the climate since, after all, “it is oil money that finances the energy transition.”

Make way for a new era of big oil propaganda, the one of fossil fuel solutionism whereby oil and gas are a vital part of the transition. You may not notice it right away, but TotalEnergies’ new logo is totally pro-petroleum.

Take the colors, for example. Red, which stands for black gold, is the mother color that gives birth to all the other hues. In an interview on French TV, communications director Jacques-Emmanuel Saulnier admits that imagining a red-free symbol is simply impossible because “there was no question of denying ourselves.” In his announcement letter, Patrick Pouyanné praises oil as the fuel of here and now, and a whole lot more. He writes: “TotalEnergies name and our new logo pay tribute to our present — Total and the color red — of which we are proud and without which we could not build our future.” Yes, you read that right. TotalEnergies wants you to believe oil is the energy of the past, present, and future. The French design agency Graphéine astutely observed that the logo’s odd shape is also steeped in this idea: “if you draw this badge with your finger going from left to right — from the past to the future, from oil to green energies — the circle of the e should pass above the bar of the t, and not below. With this movement, the whole logo is dragged in the red, towards oil. Why?” Beneath its good-natured Teletubbies-like coating, TotalEnergies’ emblem screams ‘Make oil great again’.

But in the category of manipulation techniques, my favorite is this one. TotalEnergies’ raison d’être is to delay climate action, so it decided to embody a transition that never ends. As Pouyanné writes, the petroleum group’s symbol represents the journey of energies, “a journey, a path whose course is in motion” (and must remain so). TotalEnergies wants to ensure that its path towards renewable energies is interminable. For Total, the journey is the destination. Sounds like an inspirational quote, except that it isn’t. Big Oil’s current obsession is to buy time to extract as many resources as possible, before it’s too late.

The French oil giant’s transformation isn’t exactly one. From the seventies until the era of TotalEnergies the intent is the same: profit above all else.

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Julie Mallat

Julie Mallat

I write about Environmental Communication

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