A Business Case for Sustainability: Attention Alberta Oil Sands Operations

Moral and Ethical Side of Sustainability

“The first principle  of good banking good energy is to have principles.” 

 Regarding this prefatory quote — it is just me toying around with the  hugely popular Citizens Bank advertising campaign in the US supporting much-needed  reform of the  banking industry.  You would remember the 2008 global recession has been  blamed widely on unethical business practices by some members of the financial sector. The  magazine Alberta Oil suggested if one were to substitute “good energy”  for “good banking” the fit would still be perfect.

Arguably the first official definition of  sustainability as given in the 1987 Report of the Brundtland Commission, Our Common Future,  sounds heavy on the moral and ethical responsibility side:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present
without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs 
[boldface emphasis mine]”.

Source: 123rf.com

In an earlier blog  I briefly traced the development of the concept culminating in the now more  widely embraced ‘triple bottom line” definition, also known as  “TBL” or “3BL”, which seeks to integrate the “three  pillars” of “people, planet, and profit” into one sustainability concept.

Triple Bottom Line -- An Integrated Concept of Sustainability

SAP, the  self-avowed “market leader in enterprise application software”, and which has
been devoting  a significant amount of its attention to  products and services for managing corporate sustainability challenges,  declares in its Special Report – Sustainability:

Sustainability does and should occupy a moral high ground. Right now,  resource consumption is racing ahead of what the earth can sustain, and the  problem will only get worse as developing nations start consuming their fair  share. Sustainability is certainly an imperative to which our employees and   customers assign high value”.

A Sound Business Case for Sustainability

A report by the Boston  Consulting Group, in collaboration with MIT  Sloan Management Review, on a groundbreaking study conducted last year makes a strong business  case for sustainability.

In other words, the study gives ample evidence that to be sustainable  makes good business sense as it positively affects a company’s bottom line.

In its preface the report declares:

“Sustainability  is garnering ever-greater public attention and debate. The subject ranks high  on the legislative agendas of most governments; media coverage of the topic has  proliferated; and sustainability issues are of increasing concern to humankind”.

For a concise, straightforward treatment of  a sustainability concept that is not limited to the environmental idea of “going green”  here’s an excellent FAQ link: What is  Sustainability?  authored  by the  editor-in-chief of MIT  Sloan Management Review .

An excerpt, as given below, should prove illuminating:

[Q.] “Do you mean that it [sustainability is]about ‘going green?’”

 [A.] “Definitely not (though we will help you  learn something about that, too). We think that sustainability as a business  issue will be core to every organization’s strategy agenda. It will transform  management and strategy in ways that might appear to have little to do with  sustainability in its “going green” sense. We’ll move beyond mainstream  thinking to explore this frontier and its implications to the management  practitioner and executive.”

From the moral/ethical standpoint we can confidently say sustainability is the new face of corporate social responsibility. On the other hand, its business side is captured in the extended equation:  Sustainability = Waste Reduction (or Elimination)
= Increased Efficiency = Higher Productivity = Greater Profitability.

Let me go back to this theme in succeeding  posts. In the meantime, I wish to cite a perfectly good example of an oil sands  company that is making waves in its pursuit of technological innovations  resulting in efficiency.

 The  Signal Example of SUNCOR

I wrote previously,  in a personal favourite post  of mine (so far),  that “it’s not exactly an oxymoron to use ‘sustainable’  and ‘oil sands companies’ in the same sentence.”

And we do have documentations of continuing  success on how key companies operating in the Alberta oil sands are facing the  challenges and seizing the opportunities headlong. They do so in a manner that  treats sustainability correctly  —  not as a side-issue but as a core element of  their enterprise agenda.

When I mentioned in that post a blind item  about a company that has undeniably invested in water-use efficiency, and is  reaping the benefits of new technology for water recovery and recycling — I actually  had SUNCOR in mind.

I’d like to highlight now this company’s  truly ‘ground breaking achievement’ in  tailings management that promises to speed up process of tailings ponds  reclamation four times!

How important is tailing ponds reclamation?  Well, if there is one emotionally laden image that has projected the global  view of  oil sands as “dirty energy  resource” it is undoubtedly the tailing ponds. But beyond that legitimate concern for image-correcting and -rebuilding lies OUR obligation to the local and global community, and the posterity, that disturbed earth be reclaimed and returned to its natural life and functioning.

In the words of Dr.  James Hyne, Professor Emeritus, University of Calgary,  and a bitumen belt pioneer:

“Are we on ‘mission  impossible’? …… It’s the image. That was the significance of the ducks,” he  says in explaining why accidental deaths of a statistically tiny number of common birds in a waste tailings pond  riveted hostile global attention on the oil sands last spring. “It was the picture in  people’s minds. The migrating ducks flew 5,000 miles, almost got home, got  covered in oil, and didn’t make it.”[boldface type mine]

SUNCOR’s signal achievement is its  proprietary $470 Million (to-date) technology that has given birth to  revolutionary tailings management. Called the TROTM process it hastens  land reclamation from 40 years to about 10 years!

Watch this video and, better still, go to  their website and get more information on this excellent example of Canadian  technological innovations that, to borrow the thoughts of Dr. John  M. Deutch,  have yet to gain commensurate recognition.


About b., peternolasco

Customer Education Specialist with geoLOGIC Systems Ltd.; keen student and practitioner of corporate adult learning and learning communities in the context of organizational change and development.
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