Has TotalEnergies Put a Target on its Own Back With its New Rebrand?

A little over a year ago, Total – the French energy company – finalized its name change to TotalEnergies and revealed a swishy, rainbow-colored logo. The identity change is intended to signal a new phase in the company’s journey to carbon neutrality by 2050

The new, distinctly non-corporate identity is said to represent the company’s focus on several areas of energy: oil, natural gas, electricity, hydrogen, biomass, wind, and solar. Simply put, TotalEnergies’ goal is to be a leader among oil giants embracing renewables and a world-class player in the energy transition.

It’s a bold move for the oil giant in an industry that’s become a lightning rod for energy activists. And as global sentiment leans towards a more environmental-friendly energy future, it’s also a risky one. One needs to look no further than very public and much-hyped global rebrand of BP more than 20 years ago. The company boasted a commitment to renewables with a campaign to go ‘Beyond Petroleum’ in an attempt to recast the meaning of the two initials in its name from its origins as British Petroleum.

Its credibility was shattered with a series of operational disasters that culminated in the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in 2010, considered to be the largest marine oil spill in petroleum industry history. BP’s attempt to move its brand ‘beyond petroleum’ was abruptly halted as it became very publicly mired in the stuff.

Is this a true sign of change?

The question for TotalEnergies is this: does this represent a true sign of change, or is it simply more greenwashing in an industry that has historically favored campaigns over actions?

Detractors will point to the company’s liquefied natural gas plays, and oil projects and pipelines in Uganda. They’ll call out their fossil fuel-related assets, such as oil production in the Gulf of Mexico and unconventional oil and gas holdings in the Texas Barnett Shale. And rightly so, critics will also reference studies that indicate that most carbon offsets available don’t truly reduce emissions. Not to mention, oil and gas companies are generating record profits at this time, and many are using their gains on stock buybacks. It’s a bit of a tough sell trying to convince the world that carbon neutrality can be reached while dealing in fossil fuels.

That being said, TotalEnergies describes – and quantifies – its 2050 vision as a “company for which renewable electricity will account for half of its production; new carbon-free molecules from biomass (biofuels and biogas) or renewable electricity (hydrogen and e-fuels) will represent a quarter; and hydrocarbons (oil and gas) the remaining quarter, with residual emissions fully captured, recycled, or offset.”

Developing significant amounts of renewable energy by 2030 is supported by their $60 billion in investments, with a focus on liquified natural gas, renewables, and electricity, while dropping oil-related revenues from 55 percent to 30 percent. Efforts also include solar power initiatives in Spain and India, and offshore wind developments in Scotland, South Korea, and Wales.

A tough sell

All-in-all, TotalEnergies appears to be making progress. It has reported gross renewable electricity generation capacity at 12 GW, with much more projected in the coming years. Although the organization’s efforts may appear as playing both sides, an argument can also be made that TotalEnergies’ revenue today is being put to work for a renewable future.

The challenge for TotalEnergies is one that faces the entire industry: It’s a bit of a tough sell on the claims that they make. Branding is not an abstract exercise; it is very material and requires concrete evidence and experiences. For any company in the oil and gas business, delivering on an earth-friendly promise is especially difficult given the scale, complexity, and time horizon – a transition toward clean energy is likely to take decades. It’s a massive commitment.

TotalEnergies has bravely declared its hand. It has defined the brand promise, aligned the organization, and mapped business targets. Whether or not the rebrand is successful depends on actual delivery of the promise over the coming 28 years.

For the sake of the planet, the team at TotalEnergies, and the credibly of the branding industry, we hope for the best.