Acorn Notes

Issue No. 9, February 2010

Annual Study of Sustainable Development Priorities

Acorn International is pleased to present findings of our fifth annual review 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.

In evaluating SD trends, 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
In 2009, climate change continued to be the highest priority topic for the oil and gas industry, other industry, NGOs and the press (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.

Table 1
Industry and NGO SD Priorities from 2005 to 2009

Sustainable Development goals of the oil and gas industry 2009

The results indicate:

  • Despite a small decline among some industries, climate change continues to be a high priority for all groups sampled.
  • The number of companies citing biodiversity as a priority has declined, particularly among oil and gas companies. Conversely, 70% of NGOs sampled now cite biodiversity as a priority – a 30% increase over 2008 and near the 2005 high.
  • Oil and gas companies continue to identify human rights as a priority, significantly more so than other companies and press publications sampled.
  • The number of NGOs citing water resources as a priority rebounded to the level recorded in 2005, with 60% citing this as a priority. Meanwhile, the number of companies citing water resources as a priority decreased somewhat in all industry groups. This is a surprising trend given personal communications with clients and colleagues in the oil and gas, financial and other industry sectors that reflect an increasing appreciation for the need to manage water resources carefully.
  • Lastly, community engagement continues to increase in importance among the oil and gas industry. Now over half the companies sampled identify this as a priority – almost up to par with other industry levels. Only one of the NGOs listed community engagement 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 2009. As in past years, these totals were then compared to previous media coverage and to business priorities. Figure 1 shows the percentage of queried SD articles reported in the 10 publications sampled for all of 2009. 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 2009 Business Press by Topic

    Percentage of Articles in Business Press by Topic - 2009

Figure 2: Percentage of Total Articles by SD Topics Reported in the Business Press Between 2000 and 2009

Sustainable Development Coverage - 2000 through 2009

In line with industry and NGO priorities, climate change dominated the SD coverage reported in our sample, accounting for 58% of all articles. Meanwhile, human rights coverage increased again but still accounted for less than 20% of SD-related articles in the sampled business publications. Water resources accounted for only about 10%. Combined, our proxies for stakeholder engagement accounted for approximately 9% of SD articles and do not reflect the high priority that industry places on this issue. 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 five continuous 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 will take more time to emerge. It is possible that future year surveys will see the same correlation emerge between NGOs and business priorities. In the mean time, 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 annual review.

  • Notes:
    *See Acorn Notes No. 2, January 2006; Acorn Notes No. 4, January 2007; Acorn Notes 6, January 2008; and Acorn Notes 8, January 2009.

    **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 2010, 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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