BP on sustainability – or – the past is always present

One of the things I have learned about the internet is that the past is never past.  My daughter and my step-children are able to Google me and find some of my old short stories and other fiction.  [By the way, you’ll find it under R.C. Ringer.  That was the name Gordon Lish bestowed upon me when publishing my work.]

While looking for something about gardening, I came across a speech from BP.  It was made by Peter Southerland the vice chairman back in 1999.  Here’s an eerie excerpt:

We are not a ‘charity’.

It is not our role to clean up the environment. Our environmental responsibilities are inherent in our ‘long term’ goals. Our standards and values mean we don’t poison streams and damage the atmosphere. Because we realise we are not just trying to make a quick killing, we’re there to build permanent relationships.

Some companies may disagree with this strategy. They may say that it’s more important to focus on the short-term rewards for the shareholders, and deal with the social and political fallout when it’s absolutely necessary.

Given the expectations we now face, at BP Amoco we think the pursuit of short-term goals would be foolish. Remember the corporation that realised that asbestos was poisonous, and tried to cover the problem up. The more they denied the problem, the more serious it became, until the consequences nearly resulted in the extinction of that company.

excerpt from speech by Peter Southerland, Vice Chairman of BP

A generation of MBA students will be writing case studies on the BP Gulf disaster, the role of corporate social responsibility and prudent communications.  The matching of words and actions is easy on paper but in the real world there are many conflicting forces that are pulling on a company like BP.  There are many audiences to whom it is beholden.  And those audiences have conflicting needs.

So the story of BP, the narrative of BP, is taking an unexpected turn.  The words of the past are there and companies will be asked to live up to them or to explain them or to deny them.  That is the blessing and the curse of the Internet.

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