Acorn Notes

Issue No. 6, February 2008

Acorn International is pleased to present findings of our third annual study of industry's stated sustainable development (SD) priorities1. In 2008, we continued our review of trends in evolving SD priorities of a sample of companies, NGOs and the business press. We also look again for potential indications of relationships between stakeholder interests (those priorities reported by NGOs and business press) and priorities of oil and gas and other industry companies. Sample methods and sources are described below2.

Industry SD Priorities
While climate change remains a consistent priority for oil and gas and other industry companies reviewed, the sample suggests a variation in priorities between oil and gas, other industry, and NGOs as well as variation in priorities within each grouping from year to year.

Note: 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.) "NA" indicates that these issues are considered to be specifically excluded from the (environmental) scope of the NGOs surveyed

  • Biodiversity was increasingly cited as a priority SD issue in 2007 by oil and gas companies – nearly all companies reviewed now list biodiversity as a priority issue. The other industry company sample indicated an increase in those listing biodiversity as a priority, though it is still identified by less than half of those companies reviewed. NGOs appeared to place less focus on biodiversity in 2007 than in previous years, with less than half identifying this issue as a priority.
  • Like biodiversity, the issue of human rights has become recognized as a priority by nearly all oil and gas companies surveyed. It remains a priority issue for about half of the other industry representatives.
  • Community engagement is more commonly listed as a priority issue for other industry companies than for oil and gas companies. Nearly all other industry representatives identify community engagement as a priority issue, compared with only half of those in the oil and gas industry.
  • The issue of water resources was a priority for approximately half of all companies and NGOs surveyed.

The minor decrease in water resources as a priority issue is particularly noteworthy in contrast to findings of press coverage priorities, reported below.

Comparison with Business and Financial Press SD Priorities
Acorn International analyzed the most commonly cited SD issues reported in a sample of 2007 business and financial publications and compared these to results from previous years using the same methodology. As in prior years, Acorn International seeks to answer the question of whether there is a correlation indicating influence of press over industry (or vice versa) in stated SD priorities.

Figure 1A shows the distribution of articles dedicated to the SD company priorities discussed previously, plus the potentially emerging issues of forests and fisheries. Figure 1B shows the percentage of the 10 publications reviewed in which the same issues were the most commonly cited. Figure 2 shows the trended percentage of selected SD issues that were most often referenced as key words in articles appearing in these publications during 2000, 2005, 2006 and 20073. This information was reviewed to consider alignment of SD priorities between business press and international industry from each of these perspectives.

Figures 1A and 1B: References to SD-Related Topics in Business-Related Press – 2007
Figure 1A: SD Topics Cited in 2007 Press; Figure 1B: Publications Citing a Topic Most Commonly

The results show:

  • Coverage of water resources increased dramatically in 2007, to become the most commonly referenced SD issue by the representative publications reviewed. This issue was either the most-commonly referenced or tied for the most-commonly referenced SD issue by half of the 10 publications surveyed. In 2000, 2005 and 2006, coverage of water resources in the business press was rare.
  • In contrast, coverage of human rights dropped sharply in 2007 as a percentage of each of the tracked SD issues.
  • The total number of articles explicitly about climate change continued to decline as a percentage of all articles regarding SD in these publications, and the number of articles regarding biodiversity, remained minimal.
  • Forestry and fishery resources receive little attention in the business press and are not listed among the SD priorities of any of the 20 companies surveyed. However, they are referenced as priorities for some of the NGOs surveyed.

The results of this year's review continue to show little agreement between the prioritized SD issues of industry and the press. The decline in business press coverage of climate change (both relative to other issues and as an absolute number of articles in representative publications) is particularly unexpected in light of the sustained status of this issue as a top priority for industry. Conversely, while press coverage of water resources exploded in 2007, it remains a referenced priority for only about half of the 20 sampled companies. Finally, the increase in reference to human rights as a priority issue for oil and gas companies in 2007 contrasts with a sharp decline in the percentage of SD-related articles on human rights in the business press.

The results of this year's review show a continued absence of correlation in SD issues and priorities for industry, NGOs and the business press. Observers of SD trends in business might expect to see press coverage either lead and/or respond to evolving priorities of some of the world's largest businesses. Continued tracking of the sample in this review will allow us to evaluate whether a corresponding pattern will emerges over time. In the meantime, we welcome your feedback -

What are your company’s priority SD issues and what trends do you see emerging in these priorities over time?


1See AcornNotes No. 2, January 2006 and AcornNotes No. 4, January 2007, both at

2The information and observations presented in this review are based on:

  • a review of publicly available annual reports and/or web sites for 20 selected industries (10 international oil and gas companies and 10 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 10 selected international NGOs to identify SD issues that they list as priorities, and
  • a database search of key word references in 10 selected business newspapers/journals (10 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.

The sample of other industry, NGO, and business periodicals was expanded to 10 each for the 2008 review, but the results of the expanded sample are nearly equivalent to those for the original sample for which results are presented for 2005 and 2006. 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 2008, and to consider how these compare with selected stakeholders' views.

3Sustainable development and Corporate Social Responsibility were also considered, but the results are not presented in Figure 2 because these are overarching issues that may overlap the four resource-specific issues included.

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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