Jeremy Prepscius, Vice President, Asia-Pacific, and Nick Wood, Senior Advisor, BSR

Nick Wood, the former vice president of corporate communications at Shell International, joined BSR in 2013 as senior advisor, focused on the global oil, gas, and extractives industries. Recently, he shared his thoughts on the industries’ main challenges and opportunities.

JP: What are the main challenges and opportunities for sustainable business practices in the oil and gas industry?

NW: We live in a fast-changing world with escalating expectations and scrutiny from an increasingly well-informed and sophisticated society, with the rise of social media creating an instant platform for radical campaigning without restraints on balance or accuracy. If anything, expectations have gone supernova for the oil and gas industry in the wake of the Gulf of Mexico disaster and the rise of unconventional gas.
This all means companies have to get better at engagement, particularly at the front line. They need to spend more time listening, less time telling, and they need to start involving people more. Those that do will flourish. One of the hardest things for a company is to involve outsiders in developing their projects because it gives away some control, but they stand to lose much more if they get it wrong.

JP: What kind of social, business, and environmental impacts have you seen working on these issues in this industry?

NW: I have seen many things in the last 25 years working for Shell in a global role and for major projects or operations in China, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Oman, and Brunei. I have been involved in business entry into war-torn Iraq; worked in the Niger Delta, which tragically sometimes feels like a war zone; and I have been based in China working on some of the most complex projects Shell has done involving resettlement, potential impacts on endangered species and cultural heritage icons such as the Great Wall, and extreme poverty. Perhaps the most important lesson I have learned is that companies need to engage, engage, engage—understand who, look to involve, and share—and act.  Many companies still suspect that talking to third parties draws unwanted attention and criticism, but it is usually the other way around.

JP: At BSR, we recently celebrated our 20-year anniversary. What do you think sustainable practices will look like in the next 20 years?

NW: The world is moving far too fast for me to look 20 years ahead. In the last 20 years, it has been great to see sustainable development taken seriously and embedded as a standard in many industries. Paradoxically, we have watched paralysis of governments, markets, business, and society on global warming. I hope awareness will grow and action will follow to help push sustainability into the critical business mainstream and make it a bigger item on the board’s agenda. And I hope financial markets start to take notice.

JP: There’s a lot of talk about Australia and Myanmar becoming the new hotspots for investment. Which parts of Asia do you think have the most potential to embrace sustainable practices in the extractives industry, and why?

NW: China, by its sheer scale and size and continuing rapid growth, has the most potential to make a difference to the world through adopting sustainable practices. The impact it can potentially make is truly awesome. If any country can adapt and succeed, it is China, where people have grown up with rapid, far-reaching change.