Integrating outside points of view into your company’s sustainability strategy

By May 25, 2016Latest News

In this three-part blog series, Donna Kennedy-Glans provides practical advice on how to begin the sustainability planning discussion in your organization, with your stakeholder communities and with the critics. She will provide tools to accompany each blog post to assist you, as an intrapreneur, in applying the learnings.

Your own company may be committed to closing some of your performance gaps on sustainability. Your company may even be staking new frontiers in sustainability. But, you can’t solve sustainability challenges acting alone. This is work that requires integration and collaboration.

You know that business as usual isn’t possible for an energy company operating in Alberta. You have opened up conversation with people inside your company who, like you, are curious about what sustainability means to your organization in a carbon-reduced world, and together, you have uncovered the undiscussed thinking of people in your own company. You may even be thinking about how to set new sustainability frontiers for your company.

Congratulations, you have rescued the frog from the boiling waters. Now, what?

Tackling sustainability—and any complex, even wicked problem—cannot be done in a silo. Your own company may be committed to closing some of your performance gaps on sustainability. Your company may even be staking new frontiers in sustainability. But, you can’t solve sustainability challenges acting alone. This is work that requires integration and collaboration.

So, who are you going to call? Who do you want to talk to about your company’s sustainability actions and aspirations? Often, energy companies have longstanding relationships with local communities where they operate.  And, you may have other trusted stakeholders you would choose. It’s helpful to sketch a rough map of your external stakeholders, like a mind map, to get a sense of all the various issues and points of view that could, hypothetically, be integrated into your sustainability strategy.

To get started, let’s use the example of a trusted community to explore how to open up your company’s internal dialogue on sustainability to outside perspectives. An Alberta-based energy company will have lots of communities, inside the province and beyond. In relation to a particular project, an individual community could be described in many ways:

  • An entire region, for example, “the Duvernay”
  • Those within a predetermined geographic radius from drilling operations and gathering pipeline rights of way
  • Selected groups of populations, for example, “First Nations youth along the pipeline right of way”

As your starting point, choose a community where you have trusted relationships.  Define that community, clearly. Then think about the promises made to this community, by your company, which in some way reflect your company’s commitment to sustainability.  Where will you find your company’s promises?  Start by looking in your Annual Report, in press releases, in local notices to communities about specific projects.

With this list of promises in mind, think about how your company acts on these promises. Your organization’s relationship with a community is likely to have many layers, as individual divisions and departments will engage with a community in different ways:

  • Your company’s Operations department may be very reassuring to local communities when responding to a citizen query about gas flaring. But, the drilling team may not be fully aware of other construction projects happening in the same area, and the cumulative impacts to locals.
  • Your Environment, Health and Safety managers may hire local contractors in a field operation who don’t have the authority to interpret the company’s guidelines, requiring a back-and-forth between head office and the local community that distorts clear communication and delays problem solving.
  • Your Public Relations team may want to keep a low profile on this oil and gas development project, especially with all the angst about pipeline construction in Canada.
  • The lawyers in your Regulatory and Government Relations groups may want to stick to compliance with the laws and contracts–nothing more, nothing less.

With this information gathered, let’s go back to A Measure of Integrity. You have a good sense your company’s commitment to “sustainability” . You have talked with others on the inside of your company about how to close performance gaps and maybe even championed the idea of upping your sustainability game. Now it’s time to reach out to people you trust, and invite their perspective on your company’s sustainability promises, actions and aspirations.

A companion tool, to help you with this outreach, is A Measure of Integrity Scorecard. Using the scorecard, ask trusted people in your selected community these two questions:

  1. Where do you see our company’s level of commitment to “sustainability” on this scale?
  2. Where would you like to see our company’s level of commitment to “sustainability” on this scale?

Question #1: If your community’s response to the first question shows gaps between your company’s level of commitment to “sustainability” and the community’s perception of your commitments, you may well have a performance gap. For example, if your company makes promises, beyond compliance with laws and rules, at level +4 on A Measure of Integrity, yet citizens in a local community see your company’s promises and actions at a minimum compliance threshold (level +2 on A Measure of Integrity), your company likely has a serious performance gap that needs to be closed.

Question #2: If your community’s response to question #2 shows gaps between your commitment to sustainability (for example, at level +4 on A Measure of Integrity) and the community’s expectations (for example, at level +6), you may have opened up the space for a dialogue about what sustainability targets are feasible in relation to a particular project, and you may even be able to explore opportunities for collaboration on achieving these aspirational targets.

As you progress these dialogues with trusted stakeholders, make sure you have all the people you need at the table, including your internal people. It may be easy for a company CEO to make a top-down declaratory commitment to ambitious sustainability targets. Walking the talk will require aligned action by your company’s employees. Be on the lookout for your corporate laggards and lightning rods! Too often, one laggard department can tarnish the credibility of your whole company. And sometimes, one over-zealous manager, making unrealizable promises, can confuse or mislead people in your communities.

Opening up the space for this conversation with trusted community stakeholders has an added bonus. Many companies invest in host communities, to comply with laws or voluntarily. Use the Community Investment Strategy Tool to talk about how your company fosters sustainability targets through investment in that community:

  1. Investments made to comply with regulatory and contractual commitments – for example, paying municipal taxes, funding on site air and water quality monitoring equipment and servicing
  2. Voluntary investments in infrastructure upgrades or capacity building initiatives – for example, implementing safety training programs for local citizens, upgrading bridge crossings on the public roads used in operations
  3. Philanthropic investments—for example, setting up a wildlife protection fund or scholarships for local youth

Take advantage of this opportunity to make sure your company’s community investment strategies, and dollars, are aligned to the community’s sustainability priorities.

Donna Kennedy-Glans is a former politician responsible for electricity and renewable energy in Alberta, a former energy sector executive, author, and advisor to the Energy Futures Lab.