NGO Partnerships Can Benefit Companies
Corporations have much to gain through partnerships with nongovernmental organizations which often have been seen as opponents, speakers told a recent business forum.
"This isn't about altruism; it's about ensuring our survival as organizations," Gordon Lambert, corporate director, sustainable development at Suncor Energy Inc., told the FGL Open Forum on Global Business Issues. The forum attracted more than 200 participants from corporations, governments and non-governmental organizations to discuss building corporate social and environmental responsibility.
Suncor has discovered that through open relationships with NGOs it can come up with better, more creative approaches to pursuing its development plans, said Lambert. "These are approaches that often make us more productive at the same time as we improve on our environmental and social performance."
He acknowledged that in the past, "partnership was not a word that would have come easily to mind when thinking about NGOs." However, in a number of cases, NGOs are starting to move from conflict to consultation and more recently to collaboration, Lambert suggested.
Suncor, for example, has worked with the Pembina Institute For Appropriate Development, beginning with the application of Life-Cycle Value Assessment as a tool within the company to support decision-making. Pembina staff helped Suncor staff understand and use the tool. In 1998, the oil company used life-cycle value assessment on a pilot basis to assess options for a new heavy oil development near its Fort McMurray oilsands plant.
"What we discovered was a new source of valuable information that could help us save money, reduce emissions and design better, more sustainable projects," said Lambert. "That's because LCVA allowed us to look at our plans and activities not just through an economic lens but also from a larger field of vision." This included the long-term impact on society and the environment, he said.
Since then, Suncor has adopted a policy requiring the use of life cycle value assessment in future investment decisions. The company has also continued to work with the Pembina Institute on a number of initiatives including strategy development, project planning and public policy.
Shell Canada Limited has also benefited from the input of local, national and international environmental and community leaders in the development of its new oilsands plant at Fort McMurray, said Tim Faithful, president and chief executive officer of Shell Canada Limited. The company, he said, established a climate change advisory panel. The group is working with Shell to both challenge and assist in its thinking on greenhouse gas management and hold it accountable to its commitments.
By listening and responding to input from the panel members, Shell set a target of a minimum additional 50% reduction in post-start-up emission levels by 2010, said Faithful. This means the project will produce emission levels six per cent less than those associated with the imported oil that will be displaced by the project, he said.
That approach is an example of putting Shell's commitment to sustainable development into action, Faithful told the forum. Shell, he said, sees sustainable development as a continuum of three main elements: economic, environmental and social. "Each element flows into the other -- there can be no commitment to one without the other," he said.
Syncrude Canada Ltd. has also recognized the importance of corporate social responsibility and sustainable development to its operations, said Eric Newell, chairman and chief executive officer. At the outset, Syncrude established an aboriginal development program for local residents. With aboriginal persons making up 13% of its workforce, the company is now the largest industrial employer of aboriginal workers in Canada.
Newell said his company realized that aboriginal people would have a major stake in the company's future and it sought to integrate the program into its operations as a normal way of doing business. "Today we have one of the most innovative and productive relationships that any two groups can have."
The program includes many different issues, including employment. "That is an obvious benefit to us because we can source our labour pool from our own backyard and it is not likely to leave," said Newell. "For us it simp-ly makes good business sense to do all we can to develop those skills locally and hire people who are more likely to be with us over the longer term."
Another speaker, David Kilgour, federal minister of state for Latin America, told the forum the public is increasingly demanding that corporations demonstrate corporate responsibility and companies are being forced to respond. "An increasing number of companies are recognizing that globalization is transferring corporate responsibility from a choice into an imperative," he said. "In today's connected world there is no hiding place for poor corporate citizens and no excuse for poor corporate citizenship, whether environmental habits, labour practices or human rights."
Kilgour noted that in 1997, a group of Canadian companies led by Nexen Inc., previously Canadian Occidental Petroleum Ltd., developed a code of ethical principles. Shell also adopted the code, which covers community participation in environmental protection, human rights, corruption and bribery. "Nexen deserves much praise for its leadership around the world, especially in Nigeria and Yemen," said the minister. "They do a marvelous job and I wish all companies could do as well."
Responding to a question about Talisman Energy Inc.'s presence in Sudan, Kilgour suggested Talisman "is not behaving at a standard that Canadians would expect from a company." The minister added that he hopes "the good sense of Canadians will prevail and they will sell shares in companies that do not behave up to the standard they expect."
Newell said he opposed federal government regulation of corporate behavior overseas because there are so many grey areas. A more effective approach for concerned persons, he suggested, would be making their views known to company boards of directors.