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This is NOT a Socially-Responsible Investment

Written By Jeff Siegel

Posted September 11, 2015

spillbirdAccording to the former chief executive of BP (NYSE: BP), Lord Browne, companies should get rid of their corporate social responsibility departments.

I agree. 

I’m serious.

The only reason corporate social responsibility departments even exist is because more and more folks want to know that the companies they’re supporting aren’t being completely horrible entities that have no problem poisoning the planet and forcing young Asian children to work in sweatshops for pennies a day.

But the thing is, if these types of things didn’t happen to begin with – and all companies operated in a responsible and compassionate manner – there would be no demand for corporate social responsibility (CSR) departments. It would just be something ingrained into the DNA of successful businesses.

Of course, such a thing doesn’t exist. And in an effort to placate those pesky treehuggers and moral do-gooders who want to see their food and clothing companies treat the earth and its inhabitants respectfully, a fair amount of companies realized that they could help accommodate those folks by creating an image of socially-responsible behavior.

Sometimes that image is spot on, and sometimes it’s little more than an illusion. But either way, corporate social responsibility is big business now. The are colleges and universities that actually offer majors in this field. Giant corporations all across the globe spend billions to address or at least pretend to address social responsibility concerns.

But here’s the problem …

No one really cares

According to a recent study published by Cone Communications, of the 82 percent of Americans that expect companies to report on the progress of their social and environmental efforts, only 17 percent say they have actually read a CSR report.

The truth is, most Americans really don’t give a crap.

I don’t say this to be mean-spirited. It just is what it is.

But getting back to Lord Browne’s comments, the oil industry is definitely an industry where I see CSR reports and feel-good PR efforts to be a complete waste of time and money.

First of all, very few people are going to stop relying on gasoline and diesel, no matter what happens. You could dump 4.9 million barrels of oil into the ocean, and it wouldn’t matter. Just ask BP, which did exactly that, and last year generated $12 billion in income.

And these touchy-feely commercials about how these companies are making oil cleaner and becoming more efficient. Who are these commercials for? Does anyone even pay attention? Do they really think people are going to watch these things and think, you know, I don’t feel quite as guilty as I used to about putting gas in my tank.

So yes, it’s such a complete waste of money and time.

Truth is, if I ran an oil company, I’d shitcan those PR departments on day one and use the extra cash to actually make the companies operations safer, and if at all possible, cleaner.

Right now we know that there are leaking wells in the Gulf. We know that some of the disposal methods used by fracking operations are triggering earthquakes. We know that some of these fracking chemicals are finding their way into water supplies.

That PR money could be put to better use for any oil and gas company that really wants to be “socially responsible.” Although I don’t know how socially responsible an oil company can be. The very product it sells is something that we use to poison the planet and start wars over.

But hey, I’m not in the oil business. And honestly, oil companies don’t have a responsibility to anyone but their shareholders.

Truth is, for those who see Big Oil as the devil should be less concerned about seeing a CSR report and more focused on living their lives in the absence of internal combustion.

Hate the oil companies? Fine, buy an electric car, ride a bike, walk more. Do whatever you can to limit your financial support of the industry. But if you think that an oil company’s CSR report is going to do anything but waste your time, you’re kidding yourself.

Sure, it’s nice to hear about donations made to non-profits and the hiring of minorities. But none of that changes the fact that our reliance on oil is one that results in war and pollution. And there isn’t a damn thing socially responsible about that. Though the onus should not be placed on oil companies. It should placed on us, as no oil company can exist without a steady supply of customers.