Bennett Freeman has a history of working on issues with BP that stretches back more than a dozen years and includes his work as senior VP for sustainability research and policy at Calvert Asset Management. Prior to that, he worked in the State Department as the Clinton Administration’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.
“There were grounds to think of BP as relative leaders in the oil industry from a corporate responsibility and sustainability viewpoint,” says Freeman, stressing the past tense. “They were the first major oil company to acknowledge the reality of global climate change and to commit to address it, both by investing in alternative energy and trying to meet their own emission reduction targets.”
That position, under former CEO Lord John Browne, put the multinational at odds with its big oil peers and caused much industry anger to be directed at BP, which began investing in alternative energy to a much greater degree than others in the industry, although it has reduced its emphasis on such efforts since Browne’s departure. Freeman says that BP has also been a leader in the oil industry on human rights issues, which have been another area of significant import to SRI investors.
“Those were real bona fide leadership commitments that BP established and they engendered a lot of good will through very focused stakeholder engagement,” Freeman recalls. “They not only engendered good will but they unduly raised expectations.”