Issue No. 8, January 2009
Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities
Acorn International is pleased to present findings of our fourth annual study of industry's stated sustainable development (SD) priorities*. Each new year, we take time to evaluate the evolving trends of industry SD priorities compared to those stated by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and the coverage of these priorities in 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 below**.
Industry SD Priorities
Climate change continues to be the top priority for all oil and gas companies, other industries, and NGOs (see Table 1). The sampling of other SD topics suggests a variation in priorities (both within the same year as well as over time) within all sample groups. Many of the trends noticed in the 2007 data remain true.
Table 1: Industry and NGO SD Priorities from 2005 to 2008
The results indicate:
- Biodiversity continues to be a high priority for the oil and gas industry, but less than half of other industries and NGOs listed biodiversity as a priority.
- Human rights is the only surveyed SD issue that has shown a consistent trend in becoming more important to the oil and gas industry over time – it is now listed as a priority issue for all oil and gas companies sampled.
- The number of NGOs citing water resources as a priority continued to decrease for the third straight year to roughly one third of all sampled. This is a surprising trend particularly given the urgency with which it is treated by those which still list it as a priority. Conversely, the importance of water resources among the oil and gas industry rebounded back to 2006 levels, in line with other industries sampled, with over half the companies citing this as a priority.
- Lastly, community engagement is a major priority for almost all other industries sampled but only half of the oil and gas industries sampled cited this as a priority. Only one of the NGOs sampled this as a priority.
Comparison with Business and Financial Press SD Priorities
To determine what, if any, relationship exists between the media coverage of SD issues and oil and gas industry priorities, Acorn International tabulated the number of articles written about key SD issues in 10 business and financial publications for the year of 2008. As in past years, these totals were then compared to previous media coverage and to business priorities. Figure 1 shows the percentage, by subjects queried, of all SD articles reported in the 10 publications sampled for all of 2008. As a proxy for stakeholder engagement, we searched the periodicals for the keywords "Corporate Social Responsibility" and "Sustainable Development". In addition to the current oil and gas industry priorities, we also searched for the potential future industry priorities of "Fisheries" and "Forests". Figure 2 shows these percentages over time.
Figure 1: Percentage of Queried SD Topics Reported in 2008 Business Press by Topic
Figure 2: Percentage of Total Articles by SD Topics Reported in the Business Press Between 2000 and 2008
Similar to the industry and NGO priorities, climate change dominated the SD coverage reported in the publications sampled. Figure 2 depicts the percentage of total SD articles in the publications sampled each year. However, despite this high percentage, the total number of articles on climate change decreased by 30% as compared to 2007. This is because the total number of SD articles (whether related to Climate Change or other issues) was observed to drop by a similar amount from 2007 to 2008. Eighty percent of the publications sampled published fewer SD related articles in 2008 than in 2007. We were surprised by this significant drop in coverage, and wondered if it could be attributable to the "Credit Crisis" that occurred in September, causing space for SD coverage to be sacrificed for coverage of increasingly widespread economic concerns. However, the results showed no difference between the percentage of articles in these publications related to SD before and after September.
As seen in Table 1, human rights have consistently increased in importance for the oil and gas industry. This trend is not expressed in the press coverage. In fact, press coverage of human rights is almost half of the 2006 totals. This is noteworthy given the well publicized geopolitical climate surrounding the Summer Olympics in China and the ethnic strife occurring in Sudan.
While biodiversity remains a common priority issue among the oil and gas industry, there continues to be almost no coverage of this topic in the financial press. This is also true for forests and fisheries.
After four years of completing this study, we continue to see some interesting trends in priorities within industry groups, NGOs and the business press, but little correlation between business press coverage of SD topics and industry priorities. This lack of an observed relationship could be due to a perception that some of the issues are not of priority interest to the publications' readers despite their importance to industry, or simply the possibility that closer correlation between press coverage and industry priorities emerges over more time. It is possible that future year surveys will see the same correlation emerge between NGOs and business priorities. In the meantime, we will continue to track these trends, and look forward to continuing to work with our clients and partners to better manage current SD priorities. And as always, we welcome your feedback on this survey.
*See AcornNotes No. 2, January 2006; AcornNotes No. 4, January 2007; and, AcornNotes 6, January 2008, all at www.acornintl.net.
**The 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 data base 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 (from five) starting in the 2008 review. 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 2009, 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.
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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