Engagement or Betrayal?
I read an interesting piece recently in the National Post discussing Tzeporah Berman. Berman is the former director of Greenpeace's Climate Change and Energy Program, York University professor, and oilsands activist. Berman is a co-chair of the Alberta NDP’s new Oil Sands Advisory Group. The other two co-chairs are Dave Collyer, former president of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, and Melody Lepine, director of industry and government relations for the Mikisew Cree Nation. This article discusses some of the blow-back Berman has encountered from activist colleagues as a result of engaging directly with resource companies.
Berman, along with Steve Williams, CEO of oil sands company Suncor, also leads discussions between large oilsands producers and environmental organizations. This radical collaboration has the opportunity to short-circuit some of the established patterns for both activists and business. It reminds me of a podcast on NPR's Invisibilia called Flip the Script. It described ways that changing how we engage with a problem can cause a total reversal in outcomes.
Divestment and Engagement
It also made me think of a parallel stream ethical investing. I'm thinking of the discussion around complete divestment from fossil fuels. ESG funds often pursue a more targeted balance between engagement and divestment.
In the article, Berman mentions,
"In every campaign I've ever worked on, once you start working on solutions, supporting policy, or working with industry, you are criticized. It’s a lot easier to be on the outside saying no, holding your placard, than to be on the inside crafting solutions."
I think there is a balance needed in terms of socially responsible investments' engagement versus divestment decisions. That said, it's heartening to hear of progress in co-operation between activists, socially responsible investment companies, academics, and resource companies. For companies open to influence, shareholder activism including from socially responsible or ESG mutual funds will remain essential.
Once a fund company divests from a corporation they lose the opportunity to adjust the course from the inside. At the same time, if the company's course isn't open to influence, divestment is a viable option. I think of Ethical Funds divestment from Enbridge as an example of a fund company that hit such a limit.
Worthwhile Oil Sands Video
If you'd care to do a bit of further examination on your own, I suggest viewing a video featuring Berman and Williams discussing their talks as part of Business & Climate Summit in London from this June 2016.
Or if you'd like to have a discussion, I'm always happy to chat.