Courting Controversy

There is a back and forth that I have with my good friend Dave Hampton about the role of oil companies in climate change and in our climate change free future.  The time has come to share the subject more widely.  I know that there will be readers who cannot agree with this point of view – and that is OK, we don’t have to agree about everything.  Whatever your take on it – please feel free to comment on the blog by following the link at the end.

Authentic purpose has very much been the core of my study of authentic business over the last ten years. If the purpose (the why?) of an individual or organisation is essentially selfish, there is no reason for anyone else to support it, unless they too are in on the gain.

To engage people with your purpose it has to be effectively unselfish. That does not mean unprofitable, but unselfish. For an authentic business profit becomes a byproduct of pursuing something that people in the business feel passionate about, which creates value for the wider community.

If you take a renewable energy company. It is pursuing a profitable business, but offers other benefits to stakeholders. Lower carbon emissions, lower electricity bills (if they install solar PV or wind turbines), cleaner air and so on.  Actually oil and gas businesses also provide value to the wider community too – but very few see it this way.

Although we may be reluctant to admit it, much of the wealth in our society, and most of the lifestyle, is more closely based on our ability to burn our inheritance in the form of the stored energy of ancient sunlight (gas and oil), than it is on our brilliance or hard work.  If we appreciate our affluence and our lifestyle then much of that value is still delivered by oil and gas companies.  Oil and gas companies can legitimately claim to be profiting from providing energy to our society.  Whether it is authentic or not depends on whether they are passionate enough about what they do that they would do it anyway – even with far less of the profits and whether they truly believe that the effect of their work is positive for all of their stakeholders.

In 1988 the United Nations set up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to analyse and report on scientific findings. The IPCC warned that only strong measures to stop greenhouse gas emissions would prevent serious global warming.   You could argue that it has been clear since then that the provision of that energy comes at a very significant cost – to our climate and ultimately to our lifestyle.  Oil and gas companies can no longer claim the above legitimacy if they are not also using that wealth and those profits to transition to a way of providing for our lifestyle that does not ultimately cost us our lifestyle.

That may mean finding a way to provide energy (or the things that energy provides – heat, light and transport) in a way that does not damage or risk damaging the climate.  It could mean not letting the carbon from burning hydrocarbons into the atmosphere or it could mean providing alternative types of non polluting energy.

Just stopping the production of oil and gas is not an option.  Stopping would lead to  effects on our lifestyle just as catastrophic as climate change.  And we have to be honest here – it is principally our lifestyle we are worried about.  If it we were genuinely more worried about the environment than our lifestyle we could simply go back to an agrarian way of living and the shortened life spans and smaller population that would go with it.

The other thing to bear in mind is that the causal part of the climate change chain is the burning of the hydrocarbons – not their extraction.  It is largely we as consumers who burn the hydrocarbons, not the oil and gas companies.

We, individually, need to make the choices to use alternatives to oil and gas – renewable energy, electric cars, sustainably grown bio fuels and so on.  If we do that it will only be the most innovative and agile of the oil and gas companies who survive to continue to supply us, and those would be the kind of company that we could all feel proud of.

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With love


Neil Crofts
authentic business
+34 646391384
Skype – neilcrofts



About Neil Crofts

Writer, coach and consultant on authentic business and authentic leadership. Neil has inspired and motivated hundreds organisations and thousands of individuals to their highest potential. Neil has written three published books and numerous e-books. Neil is a coach, facilitator and consultant helping people and businesses find their authentic purpose and use it to inspire and motivate them to be everything that they can be. Neil has raced cars, been self-employed, run a company and sold it, been employed by large companies, experienced growth and contraction at the heart of the dotcom boom, tried changing companies from the inside and from the outside as European Head of Strategy at internet consultancy/rock band Razorfish. Neil has been independent for over 10 years and delivered his Authentic Leadership message to a diverse range of business audiences including people at BP, Shell, Microsoft, Kraft Foods, MSN, Jamie Oliver, South Gloucestershire Council, National Blood Transfusion Service, KaosPilots Business School, Fashion company By Malene Birger, German technology company Eleven.
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3 Responses to Courting Controversy

  1. Robin van Asperen says:

    Dear Neil,

    I’m afraid that I’m on your friends site on this one. Although you make a couple of good arguments for the energy companies, providing energy and the life that goes with it is not the core business of any energy company (any more). I don’t know if you remember your lecture in R’dam @ KaosPilots, where we also had a representative of Shell. He honestly declared that Shell is in the money making business and that oil and gas just happens to be the most lucrative commodities on the planet. This is also where we should realize that our hope for a clean(er) future will not come from these companies. For example, Shell was one of the leading innovators on alternative and clean energy, but cancelled almost all activities in that field a few years ago (exept for the project in Hawaii) to focus on it’s known businesses. They also have noumeres pattents on clean tech energy for the sole purpose of making sure they will never be introduced in the real world, last example is that they are pushing full force to get permission for drilling on the North Pole, although they know that this will have catastrophic consequences for that region. Does this sound like an authentic business that looks at money as a side effect? Not really right… Therefore I fully agree with your last lines, let’s stop watching at the ones who are in control now and start focussing on what we as an individual can do!
    PS Hope you are doing well and that we’ll meet again soon sometime! Let me know when you’re in A’dam so we can do a cup of coffee

    • Neil Crofts says:

      I agree Robin – none of them can claim to be at all authentic until they are working for the benefit of all of their stakeholders AND are also passionate about what they do. And that without this authenticity they are also highly unlikely to be capable of leading the necessary innovations. And therefore they will be replaced as providers of our transport and other energy – unless they can change themselves.

      If we look at the historical precedent there is not much evidence of leading players remaining leading players when the paradigm shifts (look at Nokia when smartphones changed the paradigm). Shareholders demand investments that continue to drive profits and do not need companies to make radical and risky changes – because if the game changes they can just move their money. I wonder how many ex Nokia shareholders now hold Samsung or Apple stock? They didn’t need Nokia to change to get on the smartphone bandwagon, they could just move their money.

      This is why Shell and other oil majors have such trouble holding on to investments in renewables. Just imagine the questions at the shareholders meeting – “why are we investing x €bn at 10% of the return we would be getting if we put it into our regular business? If we investors want to be in the renewables business, we will just make our investment in a renewables business – that is not what we need from an oil company, what we need from an oil company is profits from oil now and next quarter, we don’t care about ten years time.” I think the people inside the company care far more, because if you have worked somewhere for 20 years it is less easy to change. Some of the people in oil companies (including the one that you met) see this and are working hard to find ways to innovate – but it is not an easy trick to pull off.

  2. Mark Williamson says:

    Hi Neil – despite my long standing passion for wanting to solve the climate crisis, I’ve always been slightly confused about my feelings towards oil & gas companies. Yes their products have highly destructive side effects (emissions etc) but they are also providing for a genuine human need (energy) which underpins so much which is of value in our world.

    However, my position on this has recently become much clearer, largely thanks to a shocking and very insightful piece by Bill McKibben who, in my view, shows conclusively that these companies have destruction of human wellbeing hard-wired into their business models. Their financial valuations and long-term plans are founded on a course of action that is pretty much guaranteed to undermine life as we know it. I would highly recommend reading this article if you haven’t already:

    Hope all is going well. Thanks as always for the thought-provoking emails

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