Canadian Experience in Stakeholder Engagement is Providing Valuable Example to US Companies

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The Role of a Company in Stakeholder Engagement

Stakeholder engagement is an important aspect of any industrial project development that could be the difference between a good relationship with the community, delays in production or cancellation of the project altogether.

For regulatory and legal purposes, companies must show a clear line of communication between stakeholders and the company representatives. This includes hearing the concerns of the impacted community, recording them and making sure they are represented in the project design. Chad Ford, President of Sunexo Solutions, Inc., says it best, “Being a good partner in a relationship involves being transparent, accountable and consistent. These are also the basis for properly managing relationships with stakeholders. Achieving this means organizations need to record, disseminate and be able to accurately explain their engagement efforts.”

Canada’s Experience with Stakeholder Engagement

Canada is leading the way in the practice of stakeholder engagement. A duty to consult impacted stakeholders is well established and is enforced by regulatory bodies and the courts. A focus on this duty has been driven by the high amount of resource development activities and substantial First Nation rights related to projects impacting their traditional use of land in Canada. The need to not just show that stakeholders were informed about activities which will impact them and demonstrate how proponents incorporated concerns into their project designs is an established feature of how this duty is evaluated. Failure in doing so can lead to projects being delayed, not approved and general distrust with the public.

Although there is some precedent to the duty to consult with stakeholders in the US, traditionally the requirements have been less extensive and the resulting practice less pervasive. As Chad is noticing with recent projects in the US, these ideas are starting to spread. “That’s more of a recent development in the US with projects like North Dakota, Keystone Pipeline and such bringing attention to how stakeholder concerns are addressed. There’s a lot of precedence and best practices which can be pulled from Canada where substantial controversy around the stakeholder engagement associated with industrial activity is well established.”

The Power of the Stakeholder

When stakeholder engagement around projects is not properly managed, proponents risk a wide array of consequences. The simplest one being delays in the project. Delays in projects can lead to a substantial loss of time and money for a proponent. Contractors are hired, parts are procured, and any delay immediately begins costing substantial money.

A more severe consequence of improper stakeholder management could lead to the project being denied approval. Paul Anderson, co-founder of Sunexo, knows this all too well. He was the Director of Environment for the Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipelines. It was one of the most controversial projects in modern Canadian history and resulted in an incredibly intensive regulatory review that took over three years. Paul was one of the main expert witnesses before the Joint Review Panel for the project. Although the project eventually received regulatory approval, in the end, it was denied approval by the government of Canada, primarily due to public concerns and the lack of defensible consultation by the Crown. One of the main lessons Paul emphasizes from this experience is the need to properly track concerns from the moment consultation begins and then show how they were incorporated into the project design.”

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How Sunexo Can Improve Stakeholder Engagement Management

The experience that Paul Anderson went through led to the founding of Sunexo with Chad Ford and Iain Shaw in 2012. Knowing the importance of proper stakeholder management for a new project and implementing a robust system to implement this process is crucial to the success of any project. Managing the communication between municipalities, communities, indigenous peoples, companies and the government will help determine whether a project goes smoothly, suffers delays, or never gets past the planning stage. Sunexo created the IRIS software specifically for these reasons. The IRIS software allows companies to manage their stakeholder engagement efforts better based on best practices and with minimal implementation efforts. The IRIS software is used by a wide variety of industries including to name a few: renewable energy, infrastructure, and resource development. Its application for both the public and private sector for managing stakeholder relationships is unparalleled. With the requirements of stakeholder engagement growing, working with a company that has extensive direct experience with this process is invaluable.

To find out how IRIS can help your company or organization better manage stakeholder engagement, call or send us a message and a Sunexo representative will assist to find the solutions that work for you or to schedule a demonstration.

Kristen Riley