Acorn Notes

Issue No. 4, January 2007

At the start of 2006, Acorn International took a snapshot of industry's stated sustainable development priorities. Based on a limited survey, we saw an overwhelming recognition of climate change as an SD issue of primary importance to industry. Many companies also identified human rights and water resources as priority issues, while biodiversity was highlighted by only a minority of the oil and gas companies, and none of the other industries reviewed. NGOs surveyed consistently identified climate change, human rights, and biodiversity as priorities. Finally, the financial periodicals reviewed prioritized climate change, human rights, and social responsibility (implicit in industry priorities), giving much more attention to sustainable development issues in 2005 than in 2000.

A year later, we return to ask what priorities are being communicated going into 2007, have these changed, and to what extent are they aligned with those identified by a sample of NGOs and the business press? Sample methods and sources are described below.

SD Priorities of Selected Industries
Climate change is again a clear priority issue shared by industry. Each of the selected oil and gas companies and four of the five companies selected from other industries referenced climate change as a priority SD issue.

Table 1 – SD Topics Most-Commonly Referenced – 2006 and 2005Note: Percentages indicate the ratio of selected companies or NGOs listing a particular issue as a priority, in proportion to all companies/NGOs selected for the sample (e.g., 100% of the oil and gas companies reviewed cited climate change as a priority).

The results also indicate:

  • Biodiversity was more commonly cited as a priority SD issue in 2006 than in 2005, both by oil and gas and other industry companies reviewed.
  • Human rights, water resources and community engagement (not listed in last year's summary) continue to be common priorities for industry as well.
  • While difficult to tell from this small sample, the findings could indicate greater consistency across companies regarding the issues listed as priorities in 2006 versus in 2005. If this is the case, it might indicate greater industry dialogue or cooperation on SD issues or an influence of SD reporting guidelines such as those issued by GRI and IPIECA. Note that the reverse may be true for the small sample of NGOs.
  • The fact that none of the five NGOs reviewed listed human rights as a priority in 2006 while each did in 2007 is noted, but could well be more a function of how issues were presented and interpreted rather than indicative of a shift in focus by NGOs.

As noted in last year's review, while social responsibility is not typically listed with SD priorities in the annual reports and web sites, it 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 key words in articles appearing in five popular business publications during 2000, 2005 and 2006. This information was reviewed to consider how well aligned the business press is with international industry on SD priorities (and vice versa).

The results show:

  • The total number of articles explicitly about corporate social responsibility (CSR) has declined sharply as a percentage of all articles regarding SD in these publications. This could be due to the fact that CSR has become so well-established in business that it is no longer the dominant SD "news".
  • Articles regarding human rights were increasingly prevalent compared with other SD issues in 2006, consistent with the importance of this issue to industry.
  • Climate change also continues to be a prevalent subject for SD-related articles in the business press.
  • Biodiversity and water resources continue to receive little attention in the business press, despite their increasing importance to industry.
  • Likewise, other SD-related issues (such as deforestation and fishery issues) receive very little attention, though they are identified as key issues for some companies and NGOs.

So what is the focus as we enter 2007? Climate change continues to be the most commonly cited priority SD issue for this sample of international industries, although human rights, water resources, and community engagement are increasingly common priorities. In contrast to last year, biodiversity conservation appears as one of the most common SD priorities for oil and gas companies.

The rising prevalence of biodiversity and water resources as priority issues for industry in 2006 was not reflected in the business press – very little attention continues to be paid to these issues by the publications selected. However, articles regarding human rights were more prevalent, consistent with the fact that this continues to be among the most consistently cited SD priorities for industry. The possible influence of industry, NGOs and the press on each others' SD priorities cannot be observed in only the second review, but may be worthwhile to review in future years.

Acorn International plans to continue to capture and review the same snapshot of SD priorities at the start of each year. Maintaining a special understanding of our clients' SD interests is critical to our ability to provide a distinctive level of service.

1See AcornNotes 2, January 2006
2The information and observations presented in this review are based on:

  • a review of publicly available annual reports and/or web sites for 15 selected industries (ten international oil and gas companies [including the five sampled in last year’s report] 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, and
  • a data base search of key word references in five selected business newspapers/journals (five of the most popular business publications in circulation) 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 2007, and to consider how these compare with 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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