Weighing in on the BP CSR Report

Weighing in on the BP CSR Report

BP released its annual Sustainability Review this week, self-reporting on its environmental performance during 2010. The headlines have been less than favorable:

From Environmental Leader:  BP Report Won’t Name Spill Figures

From Greenbiz.com:  BP’s Post Spill CSR Report, Long on Rhetoric, Short on Goals

From Fast Company:  BP Greenwashes Post-Deepwater Horizon CSR Report

The hubub is related to the BP By the Numbers page that actually shows less oil spilled in 2010 than 2008, and the explanation of that in a little box at the bottom of the page:  “Our data does not include the oil spill volume or the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the Deepwater Horizon incident.” And also the fine print below that which says:  “Although there are several third-party estimates of the flow rate or total volume of oil spilled from the Deepwater Horizon incident, we believe that no accurate determination can be made or reported until further information is collected and the analysis, such as the condition of the blowout preventer, is completed.”

I downloaded the report to learn more, and as I read it I thought, “What would I have advised they do?”  And it’s not an easy answer.  They could have picked the estimate of the amount of oil spilled they felt most comfortable with…but they would have likely been criticized for not picking one of the many other estimates.  They could have just not published a CSR report until they felt like the “further information was collected”…but they would most certainly have been accused of cowardice for pushing their own publishing timetable.

I actually thought the letter from Bob Dudley struck the right tone and took responsibility directly multiple times in as straightforward and earnest a way as anybody could. And I also agree with Matthew Wheeland at greenbiz.com that the report is short on specifics.  But I found myself thinking, “Aren’t all these reports like that?”

Now I just sound like I’m defending BP, but what I’m really saying is I think they’re an easy target for pointing out something most companies who publish a CSR report are guilty of:  lots of measured words that in some cases ignore the environmental issues lurking in the company closet and in other cases broadly overstate the Good They’re Doing.

Do I think it’s silly to publish a report leaving out the figures from one of the country’s largest environmental disasters of all times?  Yes.  My advice would have been to issue a press release that they were moving the publishing of the report until the final numbers had been tabulated and release it later this year.  Do I think they’re the only company guilty of publishing a CSR report that leaves out some significant environmental facts?  No.

So I would challenge any company who publishes a CSR report to take a few more steps towards transparency and truth — and then hurl some stones at the other guys after that, if you want.

About the Author

Suzanne Shelton

Where Suzanne sees opportunity, you can bet results will follow. Drawing on her extensive knowledge of both the advertising world and the energy and environment arena, Suzanne provides unparalleled strategic insights to our clients and to audiences around North America. Suzanne is a guest columnist in multiple publications and websites, such as GreenBiz, and she speaks at around 20 conferences a year, including Sustainable Brands, Fortune Brainstorm E and Green Build.

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