​Seven Generations leading sustainability and communications

Have you ever heard of hylatomus pileatus?

You might know it by its “street” name: the pileated woodpecker.

It’s a picky eater. It loves standing dead trees in which insects have claimed habitat. For the woodpecker, it’s something of a buggy buffet.

For the woodpeckers in Alberta’s Kakwa River area, just south of Grand Prairie, they now have a 50-tree smorgasbord designed just for them. That’s right: designed – and built.

Built by an oil and gas company. One that takes habitat seriously. And generationally.

The dead trees, individually selected from the surrounding forest, line a water storage pond created by Calgary-based Seven Generations Energy as part of its development program in the area. The “forest within a forest” concept is the result of a carefully developed habitat protection review that occurred as part of the company’s internal processes for consistently going beyond the environmental basics – and doing so creatively and innovatively.

By the time the fifth of the 50 trees was “installed,” the first woodpeckers had arrived for dinner and began “drumming” away to invite others.

In keeping with the company’s name, those 50 trees will be standing as part of the area’s ecosystem several generations from now, providing sustenance for the woodpeckers, but also other nesting birds and bats – long after oil and gas development has ceased.

With the petroleum sector under the microscope these days for its perceived overall environmental performance, it’s important that stories like how Seven Generations take its environmental responsibilities seriously are amplified and shared beyond the sector’s own echo chamber. Of course, Seven Generations isn’t the only company with such a track record, but it is among the leaders of the pack in more ways than one.

And in an era in which oil and gas producers ought to be more assertive communicatively – to tell their performance stories with more pride – many are instead looking inward and hoping the storm will pass. It won’t. If anything, the winds of change will howl ever more loudly.

It’s time to face those winds.

As a sector, we have great stories to tell – but in the main we really are terrible story tellers. As major debates escalate and swirl, we are being outperformed in the story space by opponents and activists for whom the facts are often misshaped and twisted to fit the moment.

That’s why when a company like Seven Generations makes an effort to tell the stories it has to tell, it deserves some recognition not only for creativity, but also for a certain quiet confidence that it is doing the right things for its community, its ecosystem, its employees – and in the process, its shareholders.

The Seven Generations folks understand that compelling narratives are built one story at a time – and over time. Once again, they have assembled those stories into Generations, an attractive package of vignettes that weave a fascinating tapestry of how the company does what it does, through the experiences and perspectives of its various communities, suppliers, business partners and employees.

In the third edition, framed by the seven core principles of the company’s code of conduct, readers get some key insights into how the code’s values are operationalized on the ground. (For what it’s worth, Seven Generations has maintained a talented and well-staffed communications department at a time when other companies have let “comms” devolve from a strategic imperative to something far less effective.)

If more companies made the effort a la Generations, it would help fill the factual vacuum we as a sector let develop in the public and political spheres. Nature, as we know, abhors vacuums. But opponents love them – and they’re only too happy to fill them with their versions of realities that are often jarringly disconnected from the way life is on the ground.

Download 2018 Generations here.

Bill Whitelaw is Managing Director, Strategy & Business Development at geoLOGIC Systems Ltd. & JWN Energy. Bill is a director on many industry sector boards including the Canadian Society for Unconventional Resources and the Canadian Petroleum Hall of Fame. He speaks frequently on the subjects of social licence, innovation and technology, and energy supply networks.

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