Acorn Notes

Issue No. 2, January 2006

What are international industry's sustainable development priorities going into 2006? To what extent are they aligned with priority SD issues identified by non-government organizations and referenced in the business press? The opening AcornNotes issue of 2006 takes a snapshot of these priorities to offer a view of where industry stands at this point in time, and to set a baseline against which to track change in future years. Sources are described below. Per SD Priorities of Selected Industries, climate change is the clear priority issue shared by industry. Each of the five selected oil and gas companies (the 100% shown in Table 1), and four of the five companies selected from other industries referenced climate change as a priority SD issue.

The results also indicate:

  • Human rights and water resources are common priorities for industry as well, though human rights is less commonly cited as a priority for these industries than it is for the selected NGOs.
  • Biodiversity appears to be more important to NGOs than to industry. The oil and gas industry appears to prioritize biodiversity more commonly than other industries, based on the selected sample.

While not called out as a distinguishable topic in annual reports and web sites, social responsibility appears in these accounts as an implicit element of the SD programs for all companies reviewed.

Comparison with Business and Financial Press SD Priorities
Figure 1 shows which of the issues identified above, plus the general themes of sustainable development and social responsibility, were most often referenced as keywords for articles appearing in five selected business publications during 2005. This information was reviewed to consider how well aligned the business press is with international industry on SD priorities (and vice versa). Results from a search for articles with these key words in the same publications in 2000 are also included in Figure 1 to compare notable differences and possible trends.

The results indicate:

  • The total number of articles about these SD related topics rose over 60% from 2000 to 2005 (not shown above.)
  • Climate change appears to be increasingly recognized as important relative to other SD issues - from accounting for less than 10% of all references in 2000 to almost 30% in 2005 – but coverage of climate change relative to other SD issues in the press is still not nearly as overwhelming as its priority for the selected industries would indicate.
  • Human rights and water resources receive substantial attention in these periodicals, consistent with priorities of selected industries.
  • Biodiversity receives precious little attention (1% of all references) in the business press, though it is an increasing priority for some oil and gas companies and a common priority for NGOs.
  • While social responsibility is implicitly a part of all selected industries' SD programs, it is not commonly referenced relative to the other issues in the business press.

In short, at the outset of 2006, climate change is clearly the most commonly cited priority SD issue for this sample of international industries, with human rights and water resources also common priorities. While all of the selected NGOs are citing biodiversity as a priority, only some of the selected oil and gas companies, and none of the other industries or business periodicals selected, see this as a priority relative to other SD issues at present.

Coverage of SD issues in the business press has increased sharply since the turn of the millennium. However, based on this sample, there is still a significant disconnect between the extent to which climate change is prioritized relative to other issues by industry and the extent to which it is covered relative to other issues in the press.

Acorn International plans to capture and review the same snapshot of SD priorities, based on the same selected companies, NGOs, and business periodicals, at the start of each year. We see this as a worthy pursuit for a consultancy and partnerships that were founded on and are dedicated to the principal of focusing on the evolving priorities of international industry.

1The information and observations presented in this review are based on:

  • A review of publicly available annual reports and/or web sites for 10 selected industries (five international oil and gas companies and five other major international industrial companies based in the Americas and Europe) to identify SD issues that these companies list as priorities
  • A review of publicly available annual reports and/or web sites for six selected international NGOs to identify SD issues that they list as priorities
  • A database search of key word references in five selected business newspapers/journals to identify the relative amount of articles/coverage on each of these issues in the business press.

Note that the statistical validity and reliability of the results are limited, and are not intended to serve as a basis for making business decisions. Rather, the review was conducted to provide a simple view of what are some of the most important SD issues facing industry at the start of 2006, and to consider how these compare to selected stakeholders' views.

Acorn International Notes

Acorn Notes is a series of periodic papers to share ideas regarding EHSS and sustainability management for international industry.

Issue 21 - March 2014: Above-ground Facilities and Stakeholder Engagement: Deploying the 'CAC'
Issue 20 - March 2014: A Starting Point for Shared Equity
Issue 19 - March 2014: What It Takes to Run a Great Consulting Firm
Issue 18 - February 2014: Considering Human Rights - Trends and Lessons in Oil and Gas Impact Assessments
Issue 17 - June 2013: Managing Environmental Health in International Development Projects
Issue 16 - January 2013: Integrating Environmental and Social Performance throughout the Project Lifecycle
Issue 15 - January 2013: The State of Shale Play in 2013
Issue 14 - August 2012: Building Environmental and Social Governance in Host Countries
Issue 13 - May 2012: Human Rights and Business: A New Era
Issue 12 - February 2012: Extractive Industries Confront Pressure for Greater Transparency
Issue 11 - January 2012: Key Updates to the IFC Sustainability Policy and Performance Standards
Issue 10 - June 2011: Oil & Gas and NGOs: New Rules of Engagement?
Issue 9 - February 2010: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 8 - January 2009: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 7 - May 2008: Top Ten Lessons Learned About Health Impact Assessment
Issue 6 - January 2008: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 5 - September 2007: Results of web forum with our International Partners
Issue 4 - January 2007: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 3 - May 2006: Suggestions and tips for safe international travel
Issue 2 - January 2006: Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Issue 1 - November 2005: The Top 10 "unspoken" criteria for determining the success of EIAs


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