The following are remarks by Andrew Younger at the International Conference on Ocean Energy (ICOE), held in Cherbourg, France in June 2018. Andrew was a guest speaker on stakeholder engagement, ocean energy, and corporate responsibility.
You can download the presentation here:
It’s a pleasure to be here as part of today’s panel. Working with so many of you prior to, during, and since my time in government, I want to acknowledge the contributions of those who contributed to this work over the past year from governments in Canada, Europe, and the United States, as well as the stakeholders in the industry including fishermen, marine industry service suppliers, fishermen, and Indigenous leaders. Canada has a unique and strong value proposition when it comes to marine energy. We have the talent, the natural resources, access to markets, and range of environments. The opportunities for marine and hydro energy on both the east and west coast, as well as in Arctic and sub-Arctic regions is immense and diverse.
I’ve been working in marine energy since the late 1980s including research on electrical transmission in saltwater, barrier tidal energy, engagement with fishermen and communities on spawning areas, mollusks in the Bay of Fundy, and air gun monitoring for the Sable Offshore Energy Project. I spent 13 years in government largely focussed on marine energy and ocean issues, including time on national and international energy committees and as Minister in Nova Scotia. I’ve returned to my private sector work in consulting, particularly on international collaboration, government relations, and stakeholder engagement in the energy and environmental spheres. One of those projects in the past year has been putting together a process for stakeholder engagement that benefits communities and project proponents.
Engagement is more than just a tick box on an application to begin a project. That is I talk about genuine engagement. Usually when I deliver this work it’s as a workshop or keynote quite a bit longer than the time we have today. There is far more information in the next few slides than what you can reasonably absorb so I’m going to cover the highlights. You can download this slide package from my website and also contact me to receive the full toolkit package which will be available later this summer.
Canada offers a lot of opportunity and support to engage different communities. Over the past 25 years engagement has changed substantially. What used to be small conversations in a community general store, have attracted broader audiences on social media. So doing engagement right is important and there are people, such as myself, working to help you succeed in this area. While I’m going to focus on marine energy here, the work is equally applicable across industries.
Communities will help you identify project risks. If you establish trust, if something goes wrong, the community is your partner, not your adversary. From a shareholder point of view, spending the time on a genuine engagement process is more financially responsible, and is reputationally important.
The approach to engagement you see here is simple but it is based on working with fishing, industry, government, and Indigenous leaders. This chart outlines a system of moving through the stages of engagement and your project, from identifying stakeholders, through formal engagement, the need to continuously check back with stakeholders, and ongoing engagement through the life of the project.
You need to know who your stakeholders are. Everyone has knowledge about who the people are in the community who you need to reach out to. Of course you have a responsibility to your employees and partners, but your stakeholders will be varied, will differ depend on the project, and will have different priorities. Embrace that.
This diagram is intended to illustrate just how varied stakeholders can be in a marine energy project, and how their interests may seem different but can also overlap. This is by no means all potential stakeholders. The ocean environment has many existing users. They deserve respect and understanding. It’s reasonable to expect them to be concerned about the potential impact on their own livelihoods of a new project. They are also a valuable source of information and support. See this as a positive, not a negative. The more variety of stakeholders, the more knowledge and input you can draw upon to ensure the success of your project.
When you begin engaging the community, your first thought must be FOR the community. You’ve chosen a location because it works for your project, but you also have to explain what benefits your project bring to the community. But also understand the risks the community will see. None of us want to think something could go wrong, but you will be asked the “what if” questions and you need answers. Know how you will address that. Community support is never automatic no matter how amazing the project. Above all else, know that transparency is the most important thing you can provide to a community. Be open. Be honest. Be accessible.
Engagement opportunities have changed. Statistics Canada has looked at how people get their information. They found a public less interested in attending public meetings, signing petitions, or even contacting newspapers. Only getting information online is seeing a steady increase.
Community stakeholders do not want to see themselves as secondary to shareholders. I do a lot of work in corporate responsibility and what has become clear over time is if you ignore the input of your stakeholders, you will turn them into adversaries. In the most successful projects the interests of shareholders and stakeholders are aligned. Working with both will help you succeed
Of course, you don’t hold a public meeting in a lobster fishing community on trap setting day. Know the community. How people want to be engaged has also changed. In Canada Statistics Canada has found that 17% of men and 13% of women will consider going to a meeting. As a project proponent it is up to you to overcome this by providing information to people, soliciting questions and input, and responding to questions in other ways. People are seeking more of their information online. This means if you don’t provide answers, data, and information online, others will and the only information out there may be incomplete or wrong. Allow the information your provide to be challenged. Answer those challenges. Show stakeholders how you have addressed their concerns and input. Engagement is not a check box. Done right it will be a positive experience and benefit your project and your stakeholders.
My federal partners asked that I flag federal Bill C-69. It’s intended to increase the focus on public engagement in the planning phase of energy projects. It broadens public engagement requirements and puts a strong emphasis on Indigenous concerns and local knowledge. It requires transparency from project proponents in their work with communities, including consideration of alternative approaches, and sets out new rules for work in navigable waters. These are the same things I’ve been talking about today as a toolkit for engagement. This will be an important bill to watch and understand as it moves through the process.
Through all this engagement doesn’t stop. It is not a step in the process. It’s ongoing. Even through commercializations. And I can’t emphasize transparency enough. Provide as much information to people as possible. Data streams, video, test results. Share the things that work and don’t. Be a true community partner.
Canada is a welcoming country for marine energy projects with exciting opportunities in the West, North, and East coasts as well as at freshwater locations away from the coasts. But like any project of this nature success is found in working with the community throughout the process and developing a trusting relationship. Your stakeholders don’t stop being stakeholders.
I work with a lot of companies, governments, and organizations, in Nova Scotia, nationally, and internationally eager to build collaborative opportunities. Stakeholder engagement is something which we’re doing a lot of work on to do better in Canada, and export that experience, like today’s toolkit, for use in other countries. It really is something to be excited about rather than scared of. Moving towards community involvement in the advancement of energy, research, and environmental goals is a positive thing.