Environmental Justice: Action to Take & Mistakes Not to Make

Environmental justice (EJ) should be on the minds of game-changing oil and gas leaders. That’s why my colleague Anne Carto is guest-authoring the second primer of our two-part EJ series. If you are unsure what you and your company should be doing about EJ, read on to understand current expectations, mistakes being made, and actions to take. Enjoy! —Tisha

In Part 1 of our series, Environmental Justice: 5 Things You Need to Know, you learned that the definition of EJ is continually evolving, shaking up our permitting landscape, resulting in ever-changing expectations of your company. With the goalposts quickly moving and new EJ tools launched every few months, I want you prepared to engage positively and proactively. In this second part of a two-part series, I explore the tools you need, actions you can take, and — most crucially — the mistakes you should avoid so as to authentically incorporate EJ into your strategy.

Where to Start

Agencies, regulatory bodies, and legislatures are developing and deploying screening resources to identify EJ communities. Understand that these tools are evolving; EJ stakeholders are working toward ensuring that the tools are robust, comprehensive, and fully able to identify vulnerable communities. The space is growing quickly — which has led to conflicting guidance. That means oil and gas leaders need to actively engage in the EJ dialogue to have a good handle on the situation. Here’s where to start to build your own reservoir of resources:

  • Research EJ definitions and tools in your jurisdiction. As covered in Part 1, EJ screening tools, definitions, and guidance are being developed at the federal level. It is also likely that policymakers and regulatory agencies within your state are developing their own approaches and resources. It’s a wise investment of time for your company to understand the different layers of assessments and expectations in your jurisdiction. This understanding will give you a better starting point from which to identify the entire range of EJ communities relevant to your operations.
  • Analyze the critiques. Your EJ work will be more successful if you are familiar with the critiques of industry’s approach to EJ. With some straightforward online research, you can steer clear of preventable mistakes. To go further, you can engage with community stakeholders to understand what matters to them and avoid repeating the past.
  • Empower internal voices. Most likely, your company already has great EJ ambassadors. Through surveys, focus groups, town halls, or word of mouth, you can identify the people among your employees who are most interested in better understanding your company’s impacts on EJ communities. These employees will also be well suited to craft engagement strategies with those communities. Employees who know or reside within EJ communities themselves will be empowered, informed ambassadors.
  • Open the history book. Many communities have well-documented accounts of their history of being subject to environmental racism. Understanding the history that your EJ communities are likely well acquainted with will give your team rich and relevant perspective into those communities today.
  • Identify best practices. Environmental NGOs, industry groups, and your peers are sharing best practices related to EJ that you can analyze and incorporate. To get you started, my top best practices include:

    • Make sure engagement runs both ways. In addition to sharing information with stakeholders, encourage them to share information with you. Assure them that they can reach you, easily express their concerns, and share their input.
    • Document feedback, concerns, and input you receive and what you do with them. In future conversations, be prepared with a well-documented reason behind each decision to incorporate (or not) stakeholders’ input. Proactive feedback loops with your stakeholders are even better.
    • Take the initiative to put in place mechanisms to receive questions and concerns. Engagement should include both parties sharing ideas, but the onus is on your company to imagine and then set up effective communication pathways such as a dedicated email or phone number. Creating an expectation or a burden for your partner EJ community is not the way to get started.

Actions You Can Take

The topic of EJ is so broad and evolving so fast that the question I get most often is “What should I actually be doing?” There are steps you can take today to make progress on EJ:

  • Do the homework. Set up a small group of team members to lay the groundwork identified above. Engaging on EJ within your company requires being able to explain the current landscape and relevant considerations.
  • Introduce EJ considerations into key business functions. Across your company, business functions are driving decisions that affect your EJ-impact and relationships. By introducing the topic of EJ and its relevant considerations across operations, you can begin the process of integrating EJ into business decisions. Company efforts across project siting, due diligence, planning, land negotiations, permitting, operations, and community investment will all be relevant to and affected by your upcoming EJ strategy. Bringing in your internal stakeholders early will allow you to gather the insights and generate the buy-in to make sure screening tools, two-way engagement with stakeholders, best practices, and community input are incorporated at key junctures. Further, EJ considerations will be mission-critical to new business lines such as decarbonization efforts.
  • Reach out to trusted partners. As part of your EJ planning, reach out for informal conversations within your existing stakeholder communities. Your list of community stakeholders will continue to evolve as your research, strategy, and engagement develop.
  • Stay apprised. There are several organizations keeping their collective finger on the pulse of EJ. (Our team loves Resources for the Future’s webinar series.) Identify a set of team members responsible for tracking development so your team can anticipate risks and opportunities.
  • Consider community investment through a new lens. An impactful path to incorporating EJ into your community relationships can include asking new questions when considering philanthropic investments:

    • Does this investment support priorities the community has identified?
    • Is this investment good for the long term, or could it have unintended consequences when it concludes?
    • Does this investment empower enduring community prosperity?

These steps lay the groundwork for meaningful engagement with EJ communities. Once your organization understands the breadth and import of its EJ work, you’ll be in a good position to keep working within these communities. Your work will require organizational commitment because, at its heart, meaningful EJ work is about building trust — which means doing a lot of listening and learning. Then the work requires integrating EJ stakeholder interests into your company’s planning and operations — creating a virtuous cycle of trust, engagement, and action.

Mistakes Not to Make

Avoid making the mistakes that can hinder your ongoing EJ strategy:

  • EJ is not a “check the box” exercise. It’s too easy to develop a superficial understanding of and response to EJ. We recommend avoiding any one-and-done statements or assessments. EJ will be a piece of your engagement and operations in perpetuity.
  • EJ isn’t just about energy access. Although energy access is truly important to all communities, stakeholders do not view EJ through an energy access lens. Engaging in and speaking about EJ requires surveying the whole landscape of EJ interests and concerns, including direct impact on communities.
  • One EJ tool will not cut it. It’s important to consider the relevant tools and guidance that could be applicable to your operations; otherwise, you run the risk of excluding an EJ community, leaving gaps in your stakeholder strategy, or missing an important requirement within the regulatory landscape.
  • EJ cannot be dismissed as a partisan game. Like climate change, EJ is driving expectations of your business — in spite of seeming partisan. As we learned with climate change, the fact that an issue is or appears partisan doesn’t insulate businesses from investor and regulatory pressures. Partisan or not, EJ is here to stay as a consideration core to environmental, energy, and climate policy and rulemaking.
  • Treating EJ as an issue for tomorrow will mean you miss opportunities. EJ opposition today can derail future low-carbon opportunities. Ask yourself, “What am I doing with EJ today to ensure doors for new and emerging energy technologies remain open tomorrow?” Your company will need partners to build decarbonization business lines that work alongside EJ expectations, not against them.

Don’t Wait to Get Started

Addressing EJ can feel overwhelming and confusing, but game-changing leaders know incremental progress is progress. Share our recommendations and lessons learned with your internal teams to plant the seed.

Adamantine can help you translate these expectations into effective strategies for incorporating EJ in your business in manageable bites. Hit reply for a consultation. If you would like to recommend Both True to a colleague, they can subscribe here.

Thank you to Kelsey Grant for support in tracking and analyzing the latest in EJ expectations.

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