Statoil has donated NOK 5million (£465,000) to assist the Red Cross in its efforts to alleviate the humanitarian crisis in war-torn Syria. That’s a substantial donation in anyone’s language. There are few industries that are more global than oil and gas. It is also difficult to think of any other business sectors that operate in more challenging environments. Making a commitment such as this is both appropriate and heartening.
The primary beneficiaries of this donation are clearly those caught up in the crisis. Irrespective of the geopolitical challenges and the rights and wrongs of the war, one thing is for sure – humanitarian aid is desperately required. Companies with a global footprint cannot distance themselves from the fallout from crises of this magnitude. Sometimes, business can overthink its response to situations such as this. Companies don’t want to be seen taking sides; being thought of as neutral is the most important driver. Perceived controversy is anathema.The causes may be ideological. But, as we see from the news reports every day,the consequences aren’t. Somehow it is the norm for individuals to have consciences, but it is the exception when business does.
Business does exist to create returns for its shareholders, but sometimes it just has to do what is right. When I see the heartbreaking images of children caught up in this catastrophe, as a father, I feel immense upset and concern. Why should I not feel the same as businessman? Last night five babies died from the cold while waiting to evacuate Aleppo
Beyond the altruism of this sort of action, what are the benefits that companies such as Statoil engaging like this enjoy? In an article entitled The Comprehensive Business Case for Sustainability by Tensie Whelan and Carly Fink published this year in the Harvard Business Review, the authors say “Traditional business models aim to create value for shareholders, often at the expense of other stakeholders. Sustainable businesses are redefining the corporate ecosystem by designing models that create value for all stakeholders, including employees, shareholders, supply chains, civil society, and the planet.”
While paying a competitive salary and all the fringe benefits are important incentives in attracting the best people into your organisation, progressive companies need to do more than that. There is a correlation between the success of a business and the pride of its members. And for other stakeholders, a demonstrated commitment that goes beyond a focus on the bottom line creates goodwill. In a world where globalisation is being challenged, business that understands and respects local communities will capture the zeitgeist.
The donation made by Statoil was undoubtedly driven by altruism. They recognised that empathy should never be erased from the balance sheet. But actions like this have the ancillary benefit of creating more sustainable businesses. Statoil may have been the first, but let’s hope they’re not the last.
Philip Rodney is the chairman of Burness Paull. This week is Energy Voice’s Guest Editor.