The long path towards transparency

This February, I read an article from Science Magazine on the issues of open record laws. It was interesting that the attempt to integrate transparency into the scientific community has led to harassment of researchers. This happens in the form of incessant communication (via meetings, calls, requests, emails), legal battles and lawsuits [1]. Is this what transparency brings to EIA? Is that what scares proponents away from being transparent?

Transparency is a concept that can improve decision-making. In several of my graduate classes, we can have eternal discussions on the importance of transparency in environmental impact assessments (EIA). We have seen cases where transparency was needed, or how it could improve the EIA process. Transparency was lacking in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant project, which led to unquestioned and uninformed decisions, resulting in the infamous Fukushima disaster [2]. If transparency can improve the credibility and process of EIA, why is it met with so much resistance?

What we need to keep in mind is that peer-reviewed research studies and EIA conclusions are not the same. The audience of peer-reviewed scholarly articles includes other scholars and researchers. An EIA is meant for decision-makers and to inform stakeholders. This is an important distinction. Research papers go through peer-reviewing “as the system for evaluating the quality, validity, and relevance of scholarly research [3].” An EIA report is meant to analyze the impacts of a particular project.

During one class, we discussed a paper by O’Faircheallaigh [4] that looked at the different types and purposes of public participation. It would be interesting to allow these types of public participation to provide controlled opportunities for anyone interested instead of limiting the transparency of the project. We know that there has already been an increase in restraints on public participation with the current CEAA 2012 [5]. We should at least increase transparency.

On March 16, 2015, a story about a Six Nations incinerator project, in Ontario, emerged in the news involving a new “zero emissions” incinerator that was reportedly producing 200 times the acceptable provincial levels of toxins and carcinogens into the environment [6]. On March 19, 2015, the community held a meeting to discuss the issue [7]. Questions were left unanswered, and the inventor of the incinerator, John Kearns, did not even attend the meeting to provide any information [7]. This is an instance in which transparency is needed to decide what to do next, and yet it is lacking.

“So this is good. It’s not bad. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. And we need a lot of sunlight in this troubled world.”

– Don Tapscott on transparency

Questioning the level of transparency for peer-reviewed papers is intended to protect researchers from excessive harassment. What the EIA process has that the research process lacks are the planned opportunities for those with access to the information and data to express their concerns. There are also more members participating in the EIA process compared to the number of members in a research team. We are in an age where this resistance only creates conflict. Proponents are finding it harder to fight transparency, as transparency in everyday life is becoming the norm. We no longer see transparency as a courtesy. It is becoming expected.

The following TEDtalk video has well-known author, management thinker and futurist Don Tapscott discuss where we, as a global community, are headed in terms of transparency:

[1] Kollipara P. 2015. Open records laws becoming vehicle for harassing academic researchers, report warns. In: News: Policy. Science Magazine. Electronically accessed:

[2] Wang Q and Chen X. 2012. Regulatory transparency—How China can learn from Japan’s nuclear regulatory failures? Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. 16:3574–3578.

[3] Taylor & Francis Group. 2014. What is peer review? [Website] Taylor & Francis.

[4] O’Faircheallaigh C. 2010. Public participation and environmental impact assessment: Purposes, implications, and lessons for public policy making. Environmental Impact Assessment Review. 30: 19–27.

[5] Gibson RB. 2012. In full retreat: the Canadian government’s new environmental assessment law undoes decades of progress. Impact Assessment and Project Appraisal. 30(3):179-188.

[6] Green J. 2015. Six Nations incinerator polluting at up to 200 times Ontario limits. CBC News. March 16, 2015. Electronically accessed:

[7] Green J. 2015. Inventor skips Six Nations meeting about failed incinerator report. CBC News. March 20, 2015. Electronically accessed:

Sustainability: What’s that supposed to mean?

The Importance of Water

Humankind is entirely dependent on water, including for energy. “Water and energy are strongly interlinked: water is required to produce, transport and use all forms of energy to some degree” (UNESCO, 2014, p.12).

Created by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the World Water Development Report (WWDR) ranked Canada among the richest countries in the world for water (UNESCO, 2014). However, this allows for an energy policy that further permits the production of Canadian oil-sands in Alberta, resulting in large amounts of carbon emissions and water use, a policy of which is unsustainable. See the video below for a short explanation of the Alberta oil sands production process.


According to Environment Canada (2014), sustainability is “about improving the standard of living by protecting human health, conserving the environment, using resources efficiently…It requires the integration of environmental, economic and social priorities into policies and programs and requires action at all levels – citizens, industry, and governments.” It follows that “using resources efficiently” and “action” from citizens are important parts of energy policy development. If this is what is meant by sustainability, though, I have problems understanding the relevance of its emphasis throughout Government documents.

The democratic process ceases to exist at the policy level, for example, in Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA). The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency (CEAA) sees SEA as a method to evaluate Canadian Energy Policies (CEAA, 2014). According to the CEAA (2014), there are no SEAs that exist at this time nor have there ever been any, regarding Canada’s energy policy. This is not sustainable, since incorporating citizen action at the policy level, according to Environment Canada’s own definition of sustainable, is virtually non-existent.

Oil-sands development has some of the most adverse effects. According to David Harvey of the University of Toronto: “Tar sands oil entails 5-60% more greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than conventional oil” (ForestEthics, 2013, p.6).

According to the Canadian Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program (GHGRP), in 2012, the Alberta oil-sands operations alone produced 50,285,958.95 tons/CO2eq. Comparatively, the entire province of Quebec produced 17,765,573 tons/CO2eq for the same year. Furthermore, in Canada, it takes about 7-10 M3 of water to produce 1 M3 of Bitumen, the raw oil-sand from Alberta that still requires further processing into crude oil, which itself requires more energy (NRCAN, 2014). This is not sustainable, since it takes about 7-10 times the amount of water to produce 1 unit (barrel, gallon, litre, etc.) of oil. This is not using resources efficiently.

Even a Life-Cycle Assessment shows treatment disparity between conventional energy (fossil fuels), nuclear and renewables (Ecolateral, 2014).

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 3.44.44 PM

Sustainability is more like “sustainability”. It is clear that Canadian energy policies do not live up to Canada’s own definition of sustainability, not only by erosion of the democratic process but also by way of one of the most inefficient uses of one of the most precious resources in the world: water, on which all of humankind depends. This is compounded by the exponentially increasing amount of carbon entering the atmosphere every day, the air you and I breath. In any sense of the definition, how does this sound sustainable and in light of these facts, how can we truly believe that our Government is handling our resources in the most sustainable fashion?

For more information on the current politics of fossil-fuel development, please visit:!ep2-carbon/clzn


Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency. 2014. The Cabinet Directive on the Environmental Assessment of Policy, Plan and Program Proposals. Accessed on January 8th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Facility GHG emissions by province/territory.

Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Environment Canada, 2014. Sustainable Development. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

ForestEthics Advocacy, 2013. Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Natural Resources Canada, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, 2014. Accessed on January 7th, 2014. Available from:

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), 2014. The United Nations World Water Development Report: Water and Energy. (1).

Is India on pace to be more environmentally friendly or to make the environment a business?

Being a developing country, India’s primary goal is to develop economically and environmentally, according to Prakash Javadekar, the country’s newly elected Minister for Environment and Forests [1].  In May 2014, he initiated his duties by increasing the efficiency of the EIA online system and by speeding the process of EIA approvals in India. In his first 100 days, about 240 of 325 projects received environmental clearance which had been halted by the previous government [2].

A key question arises: with the EIA notification in India having already changed more than 100 times before now [3] and with the speed of developments and Environmental Clearances sanctioned by the new government, will the objective for which the EIA process is designed be maintained or will the environment be treated as only a business?

The EIA notification in 2006 itself is important to recall here. It was a notification intervening in the 1994 notification, and gave more opportunities to the State Governments, gave rights to the funding agencies like the World Bank to implement their own methods for Environmental Clearance, reduced the public hearing procedures with the exclusion of the Panchayats (local people assembly), and much more [4]. Since then drastic changes are visible every time a new minister takes the charge.

In the last six months, the following activities occurred, boosting up development and focusing on the protection of the Environment.

  • In July 2014, an online system was initiated for the submission and the monitoring of forest clearance projects. [5]


Online system initiation and designation as a Business. [11]

  • In December 2014, a notification was issued where the Environment Ministry exempted the building of schools, colleges, industrial sheds etc., up to an area of 150,000m2 from needing a prior clearance for construction [6].
  • On January 21, 2015 approximately 50 utility projects including railways, roadways, power, irrigation etc were given a speedy clearance.[7]
  • In January, 2015 US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi teamed up to combat climate change and support India’s ambition in the excellent project of huge investment in the renewable energy sector[8].
  • Investment of 100 billion dollars in clean energy projects achieving Sustainable development.
  • Many other projects have been in the pipeline like the cleaning of the river Ganga in next five years [9], stringent air pollution norms, stringent norms for the industries, and the list goes on.


Suggestions to be amendments or new laws [12]

Based on these rapid developments and changes, there are some concerns among people. “We were in trouble with the last government and we are in even more trouble with this government. Rather than try to reform the system, they are picking at the edges.” said Sunita Narain, director general of the Delhi-based Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) [10].

The new political party coming in force in India is bringing huge changes within a short period of time concerning the development of the country, along with the protection of the environment and towards sustainable development. There is much more to come as time passes. But, within this context, somewhere the question remains unsolved: Will this pace of development with upcoming and future projects, rapid clearances of projects and attention driven approaches, change the main objective and the purpose for which assessment of impacts and clearances of projects are carried out?  Or will it move in the right direction?


[1] Singh N. (2014, September 11). Javadekar clears all files in 100 Days. Is Modi Ministry Compromising on Environment? International Business Times. Retrieved on January 24, 2015 from

[2]Chauhan C..(2014, September 11). Prakash Javadekar clears 240 projects in 3 months. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 10, 2015 from

[3] Chauhan C..(2013, November 11). Environment Impact Assessment changed 100 times in less than 7 years. Hindustan Times. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from

[4] Lemmer, J. A. (2006). Cleaning Up Development: EIA in Two of the World’s Largest and Most Rapidly Developing Countries. Geo. Int’l Envtl. L. Rev., 19, 275.

[5] ET Bureau..(2014, July 16). Environment ministry unveils online system for submission and monitoring of forest clearance proposals. Industry ,The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 1, 2015  from

[6] Dhoot V.( 2015, January 6). Make in India: Government removes arbitrary environmental clearance to facilitate projects. Policy, The Economic Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from

[7] PTI. (2015, January 21). Over 50 public utility projects get Environment Ministry panel nod, Infrastructure. The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from

[8] ET Bureau. (2015, January 26). Obama in India: PM Narendra Modi, Barack Obama strike alliance on climate change; air pollution, renewable energy focus areas. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved on February 3, 2015 from

[9] PTI. (2015, January 21). Ganga will transform in five years: Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar. Politics and Nation, The Economic Times. Retrieved  on February 3, 2015 from

[10] Reuters. (2014, October 10). India Approves Projects In Dash For Growth, Alarming Green Groups. International Business Times. Retrieved on January 30, 2015 from

[11] Mohan V. (2014, June 6). Green clearances go online with time limits for approvals. The Times of India. Retrieved on January 26, 2015 from

[12] Mohan V. (2015, January 5). Govt moots ideas to sync green norms with growth. ET, An initiative of the Economic Times, Retrieved  on February 5, 2015 from

Forests for sale: REDD+, conservation and the displacement of Indigenous populations

“REDD (schemes known collectively as Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) will increase the violation of our human rights, our rights to our lands, territories and resources, steal our land, cause forced evictions, prevent access and threaten indigenous agriculture practices, destroy biodiversity and culture diversity and cause social conflicts.”

[1] International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) statement, November 2007


Photo: Mark Gudmens

Conservation is a dirty word in some circles, stemming from a lengthy history of further marginalizing already vulnerable populations. With (what should be) all eyes on the current quest to reduce atmospheric carbon emission rates, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) is being pushed as an effective solution to the global carbon crisis. Despite inherent shortcomings, there is still time to ensure that it becomes a useful framework for all aspects of impact assessment and serves the needs of local communities directly affected by it.

Early Conservation efforts

The conservation of “wilderness” for the benefits of developed nations is not a new idea, with early political powers in North America designating huge tracts of land, such as Yellowstone and Yosemite, as National parks [2]. By restricting the ways these areas were occupied and using a colonial framework of conservation and control, indigenous presence was erased from the landscape and historical territories grabbed by colonial settlers in order to “protect” western visions of nature [3].

Modern Environmental Conservation efforts

Over 20 percent of the planet’s surface is currently protected through conservation efforts by a handful of BINGOs (Big International Non-Governmental Organizations) [4]. Corporations, like Conservation International (CI), are altruistic in appearance, seeking to protect key global biodiversity hotspots [5]. Under the aegis of conservation, vast tracts of land in the global south have been deemed ecologically important and removed from the stewardship of local indigenous populations, to the detriment of both systems and with no strong social impact assessment (SIA) in place [5]. Additionally, these displaced persons are rarely compensated, becoming further marginalized in the name of conservation.

Thus, the overarching rubric of conservation continues to focus on notions of preservation of the wilds for the betterment of developed nations with little consideration to the indigenous populations that shaped these landscapes through thoughtful stewardship and symbiotic, sustainable relationships.

Enter: The next generation of environmental conservation and REDD+

Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) was conceived of during the early push for global solutions to climate change, specifically during the 2005 COP-11 in Montreal, Canada [6]. This video, produced by the REDD desk, gives a brief description of how the program is supposed to incentivize the protection of global forests in the name of carbon offsets for developed nations and international organizations.

Despite the mention of protection for local indigenous communities and opportunities for participation throughout the EIA process, indigenous groups are mistrustful of the proposed REDD+. Due to a lengthy history of marginalization and displacement through colonial domination, many populations in developing nations have chosen to fight the implementation of a program they feel will only serve to line the pockets of rich Westerners and contribute little to actual reductions in carbon emission rates.

A pilot project conducted in Nepal found that the benefits of REDD+ were not fairly distributed between all members of a given community [7]. Although there were evident positive effects of the program, such as meaningful public participation, there is a need for a strong system of social safeguards in order to protect the indigenous populations that live in the regions [7]. Other authors criticize the “top-down” approach of the current REDD+ system and argue for a wider role for indigenous stakeholders in order to protect communities at the local level [8].

In order to create a framework that actually does what it was intended to do, REDD+ social safeguards must be designed with several keys concepts in mind. The importance of a bottom-up approach to the sustainable management of these new spaces is crucial to the success of REDD+. Further to this, a clear and well defined social impact assessment (SIA) that considers the needs of the local communities before the wants of international institutions must be equipped with the power to challenge decisions made by forces removed from the landscape.


[1] The International Forum of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change (IFIPCC) The 13th Session of Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC SBSTA 27, agenda item 5/REDD Accessed online February 10, 2015.

[2] Vaccaro, I., Beltran, O., and Paquet, P. A. 2013. Political ecology and conservation policies: some theoretical genealogies. Journal of Political Ecology, 20. 255-272. Online

[3] Robbins, P. 2012. Political Ecology; a critical introduction, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.

[4] Dowie, M. 2010. Conservation Refugees. Cultural Survival; 34, 1. Accessed January 22, 2015. Online

[5] Survival International. November 14, 2014. Parks need peoples. Survival International Report. Accessed online February 6, 2015

[6] Agrawal, A., Nepstad, D. and Chhatre, A. 2011. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. Annual Review of Environmental Resources, vol. 36, p. 373-396. Accessed online February 6, 2015.

[7] Maraseni, T. N., Neupane, P. R., Lopez-Casero, F., and Cadman, T. 2014. An assessment of the impacts of the REDD+ pilot project on community forests user groups (CFUGs) and their community forests in Nepal. Journal of Environmental Management. Vol. 136, p. 37-46. Accessed February 6, 2015.

[8] Corbera, E. and Schroeder, H. 2011. Governing and implementing REDD+. Environmental Science & Policy, vol. 14:2, p. 89-99.

Sacrificing the Environment: Effects of the Canadian Environment Assessment Act 2012 on The Enbridge Pipeline 9B Reversal

By Wills Tobin,

Formerly, Enbridge pipeline 9B sent oil from Montreal, Quebec to Sarnia, Ontario. An approval on March 6, 2014 has allowed Enbridge Pipelines to reverse oil direction and capacity towards Montreal, QC. The National Energy Board’s approval is a fundamental example of the extent to which EIA processes in Canada have eroded because of the Bill C-38 adoption in June 2012. More insight on this:

In bill C-38, The Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA 2012) changed drastically. The Energy Policy Institute of Canada (EPIC) facilitated changes in the act through lobbying representatives and members of Government (Forest Ethics, 2013). The EPIC mandate is to “…provide the foundations…for energy and environmental policy”(Forest Ethics, 2013, p. 1). As the conservative Government argued that the CEAA 2012 amendment was simply to streamline and reduce duplication, the effects of legislation have been negatively influential on the line 9B project (EPIC, 2012).

Scoping Line 9B

Due to the CEAA 2012, in the Line 9B reversal, The NEB (National Energy Board) stated that it would not consider environmental or socio-economic effects not directly associated with the reversal of the pipeline (Forest Ethics, 2013; David Suzuki Foundation, 2012; Gage, 2012). This has had a negative effect on the scope of the project. Scoping is critical because its purpose is to identify scientific and public core values so indirect and cumulative impacts are not over-looked, especially when it comes to major oil and gas infrastructure, which should always require comprehensive studies (Noble, 2010).

Monitoring Line 9B

According to Forest Ethics (2013), “once a decision is made for a given project, the NEB will not revoke permits, even if subsequent analyses show adverse environmental effects (p. 7).” The NEB also stated that monitoring should only have to be done at the beginning of the EIA process and not require continued follow-ups (NEB, 2013). The pipeline is 38 years old and it is worrisome that it may rupture if its carrying capacity is increased. There is a fear about pre- and post-, consistent monitoring, as knowledge of bitumen effects on the environment is limited and therefore less capable of being mitigated (CTV News, 2014). See video for more details:

Public Participation Line 9B

Most importantly, public participation now only includes people “directly effected”. (David Suzuki Foundation 2012; Gage 2012; Forest Ethics, 2013) As a result, compared to the Enbridge Northern Gateway Project (11,111 public participants), Enbridge line 9B only had 172 participants (Forest Ethics, 2013). This legislation has meant the loss of democracy in Canadian EIA. This is most important because participant input as to what is important in EIA has formerly always been taken into consideration. Keep in mind that what constitutes an impact or effect is frequently defined by social value. This diminution of public participation also defeats the purpose of important cornerstones in the development of EIA in Canada, like the signing of the Rio Declaration in 1992, the UN global environmental assessment agreement (UNEP, 1992). The effects of the CEAA 2012 have had repercussions that need to be noticed and hopefully acted upon very soon.


Canadian Environmental Law Association. (2014). Retrieved from:’s-greenhouse-gas-reduction-program-–-carbon-tax.

CBC News. (2014). Enbridge Line 9 pipeline reversal approved by energy board. Retrieved from:

CTV News. (2014). Leonardo DiCaprio visits Alberta oilsands to research documentary. Retrieved from://

David Suzuki Foundation. (2012). Bill C-38: What you need to know. Retrieved from:

Energy Policy Institute of Canada. (2012). A Canadian Energy Strategy Framework: A guide to building Canada’s future as a global energy leader. Retrieved from:

Environment Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

ForestEthics Advocacy. (2013). Who writes the rules? A Report on Oil Industry Influence, Government Laws, and the corrosion of Public Process.

Gage, A. (2012). Who is silenced under Canada’s new environmental assessment law? West Coast Environmental Law. Retrieved from:’s-new-environmental-assessment-act

Green World Rising. (2014). Retrieved from:!ep2-carbon/clzn

Line 9: It’s coming for you. Retrieved from:

National Energy Board. (2013). Hearing Order OH-002-2013. 2000/90464/90552/92263/790736/890819/918701/918444/A3%2D1_%2D_Hearing_Order_OH%2D002%2D2013_%2D_A3F4W7.pdf?


Natural Resources Canada. (2014). Retrieved from:

Oil Sands Information Portal, (2014). Retrieved from:

Opposing Enbridge’s Line 9. (2014). Retrieved from:

Stewart, K. (2014). Approval of Enbridge Line 9 good for oil companies, not communities: Greenpeace. Toronto. Retrieved from:

UNEP. (1992). Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. Retrieved From:

Mandatory Environmental Corporate Social Responsibility: Can Canada become a leader?


Corporate Knights, 2011 [3]

Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) has become an integral part of the corporate decision-making process. This acceptance of EIA as a project decision making tool with processes for identifying and evaluating impacts has translated into the world of corporate management with the creation of various public reports on corporate social responsibility (CSR). Over the past decade sustainable development reporting has been adopted by the majority of Canadian companies as a means of strengthening the link between the companies and their stakeholders [2]. Unfortunately, the comparison of those reports is hampered by the difficulty of defining corporate social responsibility [3]. As Cory Searcy states in his article [1] corporations have been struggling with the question of what information they should be sharing with the public and how should they be presenting it.

The issues of defining CSR and reporting how a company’s environmental, social and governance programs meet their corporate sustainable development goals can be addressed through the use of reporting standards. But what reporting standards should be used? There are a multitude of guidelines and standards for CSR reporting that have resulted in a very broad range in the quantity and quality of information in CSR reports [1]. The experience of the last ten years shows that voluntary reporting may not be serving stakeholders and the public very well. Analysis of 94 Canadian corporate sustainability reports showed that 585 different indicators were reported yet only three indicators were shared between the companies [1]. This degree of variance in the reports is surprising given the robust standard of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI). Voluntary reporting may be widely accepted, but it clearly is not serving the needs of the stakeholders and the public.

GRI Reporting Cycle

GRI Reporting Cycle [4]

Mandatory reporting addresses most of the shortcoming of voluntary reporting. It allows for clearer corporate communication with mutually understood terminology and measures, and allows stakeholders to more easily compare the CSR statements of various companies [2]. In 1993 Canada was one of the leaders in mandatory reporting with the Whitehorse Mining Initiative, but has lagged since then. Corporate lobbying and government reluctance to regulate has left Canada with a poor voluntary reporting process and few standards. In countries where mandatory reporting structures have been adopted, socially responsible managerial practices have increased, and sustainable development key performance indicators have been implemented [2]. With a mandatory reporting structure in place, overall social responsibility increases due to improvements in communication and comparability.

How can Canada regain a leading position in CSR reporting? Adopting mandatory reporting standards based on the GRI guidelines for all companies would be a good start. The current reporting structure involving the financial and other regulated industries needs be expanded to incorporate the GRI standards. On the world stage, this would allow Canadian companies to better demonstrate their commitment to corporate sustainable development and would help Canada to repair its environmental reputation.



[1] Searcy, Cory (2012) Mandatory reporting? Corporate Knights, 11(1), 38-39.

[2] CGA-Canada (2011) Regulating sustainability reporting – Is a mandatory approach better than a voluntary one? December 2011.

[3] Drohan, Madelaine (2011) Big country, small steps: Taking a critical look at the last decade of corporate social responsibility in Canada. Corporate Knights, issue 35, 25-28.

[4] Brown, H. S., de Jong, M., & Levy, D. L. (2009). Building institutions based on information disclosure: lessons from GRI’s sustainability reporting. Journal of Cleaner Production, 17(6), 571-580.

ISO 14000: Are environmental standards relevant to the oil and gas industry?

By David Vilder.

In a rapidly evolving political landscape of interdependence and lowering of traditional frontiers, new tools for environmental governance keep emerging with both successes and failures. Governments struggle to enact new regulations. They often face strong opposition from the business sector, or the political climate simply isn’t favorable [1]. Government regulation is also very costly, both in terms of political capital and finances. Since the 1980s, New Environmental Policy Instruments (NEPI) have emerged as a results of growing dissatisfaction toward traditional command and control policies [2].

Gulf of Mexico (May 6, 2010) -- Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard working in partnership with BP PLC, local residents, and other federal agencies conducted the "in situ burn" to aid in preventing the spread of oil following the April 20 explosion on Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon. (Source: WikiCommons/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg/Released)

Gulf of Mexico (May 6, 2010) — Dark clouds of smoke and fire emerge as oil burns during a controlled fire in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Coast Guard working in partnership with BP PLC, local residents, and other federal agencies conducted the “in situ burn” to aid in preventing the spread of oil following the April 20 explosion on Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit Deepwater Horizon. (Source: WikiCommons/U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justin Stumberg/Released)

Eco-labels, in particular, have proliferated in the past 20 years. One of the most prominent is the ISO 14 000 family of environmental standards. In brief, ISO 14000 requires a company to assess all aspects of their production and their respective environmental impacts. It also requires an Environmental Management System (EMS), which must include an Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan (EPRP) [3]. Thousands of companies have been certified since the launch of the new standard in 1996, yet one sector remained slow to catch on: the oil and gas industry.

The trend is changing. All major oil and gas companies are moving toward an ISO 14000 certification or have already implemented it (Shell and Total amongst others) [4].   The issue – or the benefits – around eco-labels and such type of NEPI that are market-based is that they are voluntary standards motivated by the market (hence the name market-based!). In other words, there must be a perceived economic advantage for a company to move forward with the often costly certification. Economic advantage, in turn, is the results of both consumer awareness and uptake [2]. When these two elements are combined, an eco-label scheme can become quite successful at protecting the environment while benefiting the company (like the Forest Stewardship Council -FSC- for pulp and paper industry or ISO 14000 in some sectors) [2].

In the oil and gas sector, however, the potential benefits are often hard to grasp. Nobody thinks twice about which gas they put in their cars (except from reward schemes such as Air Miles). The logic behind ‘green’ gas is not the same as for organic tomatoes, yet there is one element of ISO 14000 that can be very beneficial for a company like Enbridge: an EPRP. EPRP can influence directly a company’s long-term operational risk, thereby reassuring investors and potential stakeholders [5]. Other players in the industry have made the move.

Cleaning work after the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez (source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council)

How many more spills will be required before oil companies implement comprehensive and transparent EPRPs. On image: Cleaning work after the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez (source: Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council)


[1] GABRIEL, T., WINES, M., & DAVENPORT, C. (2014, 01 18). Chemical Spill Muddies Picture in a State Waryof Regulations. Retrieved 02 23, 2014, from The New York Times:

[2] Kalfagianni, A., & Pattberg, P. (2013). Fishing in muddy waters: Exploring the conditions for effective governance of fisheries and aquaculture. Marine Policy, 38(1), 124–132.

[3] Willaert, T. (2014, 03 02). Major revision of ISO 14001 coming up: what is new in ISO 14001:2015? Retrieved 03 02, 2014, from DQS-UL CFS GmbH:

[4] Spence, D. B. (2011). Corporate Social Responsibility in the Oil and Gas Industry: The Importance of Reputational Risk. Chicago-Kent Law Review, 86(1), 59-85.

[5] The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative. (2013). Final Oral Arguments Presented to the National Energy Board of Canada. Chicago, IL: The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative.