Is there any point in engaging with environmental non-governmental organizations (ENGOs) when they are, at times, oil sands development’s fiercest critics?
No common ground
Some observers of North America’s acrimonious energy debate believe oil and gas companies are better off keeping ENGOs at a distance. They say there is little chance of finding common ground, and a good chance of project delays and added costs.
Pundits are especially perplexed by firms that involve ENGOs in their business as advisors or consultants. In their view, industry is asking for trouble by enabling its critics to step up activism and get inside knowledge on how to disrupt development.
It seems many in business are leery of ENGOs. After all, aren’t all ENGOs hell-bent on disrupting and delaying energy infrastructure, publicly attacking consumer brands for their energy choices and persuading investors to ditch fossil fuel company stocks?
Well actually, no. That’s because not all ENGOs are the same. True, some are all about pursuing high-profile campaigns to sell their ideologies and win more members. But there are other groups which prefer to engage directly with stakeholders, including businesses, to find common approaches to influence society for the better.
Nonetheless, when it comes to oil sands and the broader topic of energy development, Suncor will engage with stakeholders, including many ENGOs. While our work with some ENGOs, such as the Pembina Institute, Pollution Probe and the Alberta Conservation Association, is well known, you might be surprised to learn that we also talk with Environmental Defence and even Greenpeace.
Environmental Defence and Greenpeace, in fact, have both toured our operations. The intention wasn’t to have them leave donning Suncor ball caps and singing our praises, but rather to try to increase their understanding of oil sands development and the efforts we go to develop the resource in an environmentally-responsible way because we’re proud of our operations. Their representatives seemed to appreciate the opportunity to visit and we appreciate learning more about their perspective, their concerns, and hopefully, their ideas to address challenges.
Having difficult conservations with people who oppose the oil sands is critical. Constructive dialogue helps build understanding and move us closer to a place where we can talk about real solutions to society’s looming challenges.
We know we don’t have a monopoly on good ideas. Sometimes the best conversations start when you listen to other people, even when they come to the table with diametrically opposed views.
We are not alone in this point of view. Some of the world’s best-known and best-run companies engage extensively and positively with ENGOs – Unilever, Apple, Shell, Coca-Cola, Nike, to name just a few. Research shows clearly that business and ENGOs have appetite to work together.
While opinions may differ, ultimately we all want the same things: social well-being, a healthy environment and a vibrant economy.