BP – The Worst ‘Sustainability’ Report Of All Time

April 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

I’m going to take the liberty and repost Natalya Sverjenksy‘s blog on BP’s ‘sustainability’ report for 2010 in full. It is totally excellent and deserves five minutes of reading. Find the original here. Last year Natalya and I created this mini-site in response to the BP oil spill.

Back in April of last year, as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill descended into total chaos and BP demonstrated gross irresponsibility, I issued a challenge to BP to publish a 2010 sustainability report. Well, as expected it’s here and it’s even more surreal than a Senate hearing on the EPA. In fact, it’s the worst report of all time.

This is not simply a tour-de-force of greenwash, which is the norm for companies in the controversial extractive industries. This is a report that overtly and unapologetically fails to provide an accurate picture of BP’s sustainability performance in 2010. For starters:

  • The report doesn’t include any figures estimating the volume of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. In their own fine print, BP says “there are several third-party estimates of the flow rate or total volume of oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon incident.” So where are these estimates? And where are the scenarios showing stakeholders and investors what each of them could mean for BP as a business?
  • The report reveals only one long-term environmental target with no breakdown. $1 billion—pennies for an oil company—for ‘low-carbon energy markets’. No further details on what this money will be allocated for.
  • The report offers very few stakeholder voices and no global environmental NGOs or scientists are represented. The third-party voice given the most space is Ernst & Young, BP’s auditors. No scientists. No representation from the big global environmental NGOs.

Plenty of people will focus on the above omissions when examining the report. But basic critiques aside, the 2010 BP Sustainability Review actually accomplishes one extremely important task. It answers a fundamental question about BP’s long-term business objectives that stakeholders—and shareholders for that matter—have been losing sleep over for the past year. The only issue is that you might not enjoy the answer. You especially won’t enjoy it if you:

  • Believe corporations that create ecological disasters of historic proportions should radically rethink the way they operate
  • Think climate change requires major changes to the ways we produce and consume energy
  • Agree that oil companies are increasingly using dangerous and risky methods for extraction that should be closely monitored and/or phased out

In the interview with CEO, Dudley says ““To those who ask if we truly understand the implications, let me say firmly that ‘we get it’. We understand that business-as-usual is not an option, and we are making substantial changes to the way we work.”

Later on in the same interview, he makes BP’s strategy clear. Get out the tissues, here it is:

“With global oil production from existing fields declining by around 5% a year, it’s vital that new fields are discovered and developed. This is why BP will continue to move farther into harsh, remote and complex geographies, from deep water to the Russian Arctic; from oil sands and unconventional gas to giant fields – such as Rumaila in Iraq. We believe we can help meet energy demand and create returns for investors by applying our distinctive skills, capabilities and technologies in these demanding areas.”

That’s right, harsh, remote and complex territory.This is an unreal response to Deepwater Horizon. By comparison, it’s like saying we should respond to rising obesity levels by making larger sizes of clothing for people to wear.

If regulators, us sustainability folks and the global business community fail to understand what this strategy means, we can be sure another Deepwater Horizon isn’t far off. This is not just a commitment to business as usual—it’s a commitment to disaster.

And initiating a regulatory response might just might be a task for the People’s Sustainable Development Commission to take up.

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