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This page was published on 12/02/2007
Published: 12/02/2007

   Science in society

Published: 12 February 2007  
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Energy  |  Social sciences and humanities  |  Science in society  |  Environment  |  Science & business


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European oil companies show increased interest in their (green) image

A recent survey of European oil companies found that environmental concerns are at the top of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) policy lists. The findings are based on replies to a survey of nine oil companies operating in Europe conducted by the Fridtjof Nansen Institute (FNI) in Norway in cooperation with the Stockholm Environmental Institute. The survey is part of a wider EU-financed project investigating CSR attitudes in Europe. Responses to the survey show that oil companies subject themselves to a number of different CSR protocols, but find that self-imposed, ‘company specific' instruments to be most effective.

Oil companies are increasingly interested in their impacts on the environment. © Michael Kauffmann
Oil companies are increasingly interested in their impacts on the environment.
© Michael Kauffmann
The EU-funded project ‘Rhetoric and Realities: Analysing Corporate Social Responsibility in Europe' (RARE), “seeks to improve the understanding of the effectiveness of CSR as a policy instrument and how CSR can, in practice, benefit sustainable development in the EU,” according to its website. In addition to the oil market, RARE is focusing on the banking and fish processing sectors, as well as on small and medium-sized companies (SMEs).

In light of increasing concerns about climate change and political instability in oil rich regions, Elin Lerum Boasson, lead author of the survey and a Research Fellow at FNI, found the responses from companies present in the world's richest market of particular interest. “The most interesting finding is that the European oil companies now clearly have come to view climate change mitigation as the most important social and environmental issue confronting the industry,” she says.

The survey found that, on average, oil companies adhere to 17 CSR instruments, including Global Compact, the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the Responsible Care Initiative, ISO 14001, and the Global Reporting Initiative.

However, The European Commission expects companies to strive for CSR policies above and beyond what is dictated by international law; something — it turns out — companies are not so eager to do.

Up to now, the EU has urged industry to take on ambitious measures for developing CSR policies voluntarily. “The survey indicates that this strategy has failed,” comments Ms Boasson.

Nevertheless, the survey seems to indicate that European companies are at least paying more lip service to CSR, and RARE is continuing its research in order to understand how this increased focus will result in real change.

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Fridtjof Nansen Institute report
RARE homepage

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