This week Royal Dutch Shell released its 2012 Sustainability Report. Like most sustainability and CSR reports, Shell’s report starts with a letter from its CEO. Shell’s chief executive, Peter Voser, frames the report with three themes: building trust; taking action; and working on “partnerships and principles.”
In the wake of its 2011 sustainability report, Shell has certainly had its hits and misses the past year. The company has a rigorous volunteer program; is experimenting with carbon capture and storage (CCS) in the controversial Canadian tar sands; and the company recently claimed it will ramp up investment in clean energy technologies. But Shell is also a leading member of ALEC after a year when other multinationals cut ties with the legislative ghostwriting organization. The company also spends hundreds of millions of dollars in Nigeria as part of its cozy relationship with the country’s government. Plus, the company has attracted its share of criticism, and spoofs, over its designs on the Arctic.
So what does Shell say it’s doing on the trust, action and partnership/principle fronts?
Shell’s greenhouse gas emissions, which had declined steadily for several years before an uptick between 2009 and 2010, are slowly trending downward. The same is true for just about every GHG and pollutant, from VOCs to ozone-depleting emissions. Sabotage spills, however, rose slightly. Which leads us to:
Oil theft and sabotage is still a huge problem for Shell. The company has begged the Nigerian government for more cooperation and assistance. Shell reminds us the company, or actually the joint venture between Total, Agip, and Nigeria’s national oil company (NNPC), has paid $42 billion into Nigeria’s treasury from 2008 to 2012. Last year alone, Shell paid almost $100 million to the Niger Delta Development Commission as well as for various community development projects.
During 2012, Shell used approximately 7.7 billion liters in its gasoline and diesel blends worldwide. Its cane ethanol production at the Raizen refinery, one of the world’s largest bio-refineries, is up to 2.2 billion liters (580,000 gallons) annually.
Shell has lined up a variety of partnerships with environmental NGOs. In Russia, Shell teams with Wetlands International in a region where Shell is planning a new oil and gas exploration project. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) advises Shell on the impacts the extractive industries have on World Heritage sites. And in Louisiana, Shell works with The Nature Conservancy to use artificially engineered oyster reefs to reduce erosion and protect local pipelines.
A price on carbon
Shell has called for a carbon tax on CO2 in order to achieve what the company describes as “significant emissions reductions” in the long term. In a message to all governments, Shell declares:
“Governments should allow market forces to encourage the use of all technologies to reduce CO2 emissions, starting with those that are least costly and quickest to implement.”
Shell states that it is not waiting for governments to act, however. The company claims it has a long-term strategy focused on four main points: amping up natural gas exploration; carbon capture and storage; biofuels; and energy efficiency. Furthermore, Shell claims it is also studying climate change adaptation to understand future impacts on its own facilities and future projects.
What do you think?
So the question many will ask is: is a company with revenues of over $467 billion with an investment of $2 billion in clean energy a “sustainable company?” As far as the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) report framework goes, Shell checked all the boxes and cross all the T’s. Whether Shell has truly built a sense of trust among the fossil fuel skeptics, however, remains to be seen during 2013.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. At Better4Business in Anaheim on May 2, he will join a panel discussing how companies can present their CSR initiatives to the media. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit of Shell’s international headquarters: Wikipedia/P.L. van Till]