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Responsible extractives, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose (for now at least)

I just came from a conference this morning on responsible extractives.

A misnomer for some, and a career goal for others.

Those others being hundreds perhaps even thousands, of corporate executives working full time in the field of mining and oil/gas impact mitigation, environmental protection and social/community enhancement.

Where would we be without Venn diagrams? Phew

I’ll be back at the conference tomorrow, moderating a session on the social risks of poor water management and what can be done about them.

My one takeaway from today was that companies in the sectors, despite their inherent volatility (show me an industry that isn’t these days) and recent tribulations, are investing more in social and environmental performance measurement.

Every year since I created the conference (thanks to Mark Eadie for the idea) five or six years ago, we’ve seen the level of seniority of speakers rise. This year we even had a CEO, Tom Albanese from Vedanta Resources. He was pretty good, too.

Speakers were at pains to point out the real business case reasons for being responsible in the extractive sector.

Yet there was only one person from finance in the room, and only one from business development.

The social, environmental and public/government affairs speakers are, as stated, becoming more senior, but are not being joined, yet, by colleagues in the finance and deal making functions.

(Thanks to Witold Henisz for making this point this morning)

Until half the event or more is made up of these kinds of job functions, it’s going to be hard to say social and environmental considerations are anything other than stuck on after the deal has been done.

(at other events in the corporate responsibility field, we do see more mainstream job titles appearing, just not so much here) 

That’s not to say the work of social and environmental experts in extractives can’t be important, but true integration into ‘mainstream’ business functions that make the big investment decisions is definitely still a long way off.

I don’t mean to be too harsh on the excellent professionals in the field seeking to improve extractive company social and environmental performance.

They are among the most dedicated and smart people I meet in the field, generally. Their jobs are really tough.

Their work is creating livelihoods, reducing pollution, improving workers rights, paying taxes and creating jobs, all over the world. This we know.

But if we are going to suggest that responsible extractives is really happening, even in the 40 or so extractive companies represented at the event, we need to demonstrate that those in the more mainstream job functions are showing up to these events. That’s the challenge for next year and beyond.

This is not a new idea. We just need to keep the point in mind I feel.

More on this no doubt, in later posts on this blog.