Monday, May 3, 2010

Exxon's Layered Bars of Meaning

The cover of ExxonMobil's recent annual report, folds out to reveal a lavish chart illustrated with photos of various types of energy. It shows the history of energy demand in the U.S. by source back to 1850 and projected out to 2030.

Interesting that they chose to show demand with bars all the same height, plotting percentage and not actual amounts. This is completely kosher and correct and this is exactly how to display the data for the story Exxon wants to tell: By 2030, the mix of our energy use in the U.S. will have shifted to cleaner sources. I am posting this because I thought it was an excellent example of “message management” with infographics. Exxon clearly wants to show that oil consumption is decreasing, and that they are being smart and responsible for investing heavily in natural gas (which is cleaner than oil). Keep in mind, however that the segments show demand ONLY AS A PERCENT OF TOTAL.

A few pages into the report, after CEO, Rex Tillerson’s letter to shareholders, we learn that worldwide energy demand between 2005 and 2030, will have increased by 35%. Over that same period, even with all the legislation, technology, and international agreements, energy-related CO2 emissions will still have increased 25%. So as you can see in their much more modestly produced chart, below, when actual amounts are plotted, the picture is not nearly as pretty.

I think that their choice to depict oil in green was carefully calculated as well.

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