Building back better
If governments around the world are already spending trillions of dollars on coronavirus recovery efforts, why not spend some of that money in ways that would help the environment at the same time? That’s the question proponents of a “green recovery” have been asking in recent months.
Though shelter-in-place mandates, travel bans and the shift to remote work temporarily reduced global greenhouse gas emissions, environmental advocates are taking a longer-term view of recovery. They’re proposing a “build back better” approach that shifts the world decisively toward a clean-energy future.
But where do oil and gas companies fit in this conversation? And is a major worldwide shift away from fossil fuels at odds with their business models?
Not at all, according to Tisha Schuller, founder of consulting company Adamantine Energy and advisory board member of the Payne Institute for Public Policy at Mines. Instead, Schuller said, the massive disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity for the industry to take a leading role in creating our energy future.
“We talk about it with our clients in terms of, ‘This is a train—not only do you need to get on, you need to be conducting,’” Schuller said.
At the same time, Schuller cautions that green recovery proponents need to give the industry a meaningful seat at the table. The industry has the infrastructure, resources, talent pool and research and development capabilities to make an energy transition happen more quickly, more efficiently and with a smaller environmental impact.
To be part of the path forward, oil and gas companies should adopt or strengthen an innovation mindset, Schuller said. Instead of trying to recreate or recapture the past, these companies should shift their gaze squarely to the future. Many are already forging ahead with research and implementation of clean-energy practices, but it’s important to make those initiatives more visible.
Oil and gas companies should also seek out and be willing to form potentially unconventional partnerships, such as with environmental NGOs or bipartisan political coalitions.
“A lot of this is just about taking the political identity out of it and contemplating the leadership and entrepreneurial framework instead,” Schuller said. “Let’s spend less and less time bickering about logistics and more time sharing the ambitions and then articulating a path to get there.”