Community Engagement: Local to Global

December 6 2004 Volume II Number 5

A big thank you to those who took the time to attend WNSF’s luncheon panel on December 6, 2004: “Community Engagement: Local to Global.” The event was hosted by Alcoa and BP at BP headquarters in New York City and featured presentations on company efforts to win local support for facilities construction in an age of rising concern over sustainability. The cases highlighted the creative strategies employed by natural resources companies to engage communities in two markedly different contexts: Crown Landing, New Jersey and Fjardabyggd, Iceland. But their experiences offer lessons to companies in other industries in an age of rising community concern for sustainability.

Key Findings Successful community engagement hinges on humanizing the corporation—internally, by enlightening employees, and externally, in earning credibility among locals.

Getting to know individual community members is an essential step toward engaging with the larger community. In the stakeholder process, it’s better to err on the side of inclusiveness, even if initially it appears to be inefficient or cumbersome. Genuine understanding of and respect for local customs and culture are key to gaining acceptance in the local community.
Measuring the value of the stakeholder process in ways that give responsibility to all parties goes a long way toward bolstering cooperation. Perspectives

Moderator: Michele Kahane, WNSF Board Member and Director of Special Projects, Center for Corporate Citizenship, Boston College.. Speakers:

  • Anita Roper, Director of Sustainability, Alcoa.
  • Neil Chapman, Director of Public Affairs, BP.

Neil Chapman Public Affairs Director at BP, described the need for a liquefied natural gas importation terminal at Crown Landing, New Jersey in order to stabilize natural gas prices and alleviate the tight supply-demand situation for natural gas in the US. Chapman said properties of liquefied natural gas (LNG) make it ideal for transport and storage, demonstrating BP’s commitment to sustainability. Citing the well-organized opposition to LNG projects in different parts of the country , Chapman said that to win stakeholder support in any community where the company is considering constructing a processing facility hinges on successfully addressing safety and security concerns

BP believes it has instigated a number of measures in order to “empower and really hear” local stakeholders in a process that “humanizes the corporation.” What is needed, Chapman said, is “an Erin Brokovich approach,” in which the company makes every effort to get to know community members. In Crown Landing, this has encompassed the following steps:

Gathering local emergency responders to learn about the community’s crisis management infrastructure, then formulating BP’s crisis response plans based on this information and involving local emergency responders

Holding one-on-one meetings with community leaders conducted by BP employees with community organizing skills

Forming Community Advisory Panels When asked whether BP’s efforts had been successful, Mr. Chapman said: “We don’t know yet.”

For more information on the Crown Landing facility, see http://www.bpcrownlanding.com.

Anita Roper, Alcoa’s Director of Sustainability, described the community engagement process guiding her company’s plan to construct a $1 billion aluminum smelter in Iceland (the Fjardaal plant)–the first green field smelter constructed in 20 years. Roper says the company designed its community engagement process to tackle both Iceland’s cultural context and its regulatory environment, neither of which Alcoa had experienced before. Like BP’s Mr. Chapman, she said the process is directly related to the company’s stated sustainability goal: “By using our values, our people, processes and products” to achieve simultaneously:

  • financial success
  • environmental excellence
  • social responsibility through partnerships

Sustainability, she noted, “is really about integrating benefits to shareholders, employees, customers, suppliers, and the communities in which we operate.”

In the case of the Fjardaal plan, Alcoa/Landsvirkjun (Alcoa’s local partner) appears to be pursuing this agenda quite seriously—working closely with local leaders and stakeholders and forming an extremely inclusive advisory group composed of individuals representing the Iceland and local governments, environment and international NGOs, tourism industry, church groups, labor unions, indigenous groups, local health organizations, businesses, and academic institutions. The group’s task has been to develop indicators and metrics of sustainability that will govern and evaluate Alcoa/Landsvikjun’s progress toward meeting its stated sustainability goal in the Fjardaal plan. The result is an impressive list of social and environmental indicators and metrics, as well as a breakdown of parties responsible for monitoring each.

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