NEW YORK (
) -- Back in June, Dow Jones and
, the boutique investment management firm that creates the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, removed
from the environmentally and socially responsible investing index series.
It seemed a logical move for the sustainability index group to make based on the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the worst oil spill and worst environmental disaster in the history of the U.S. Yet now a company at the center of the ongoing oil spill blame game has been invited into the sustainability index series:
At the time of removing BP from the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes, the index group said in a release that "extraordinary events" allow for the elimination of DJSI components.
"The extent of the oil-spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico and its foreseeable long-term effects on the environment and the local population -- in addition to the economic effects and the long-term damage to the reputation of the company -- were included in the analysis leading up to BP's removal," Dow Jones and SAM stated back in June.
Apparently the extraordinary events of the oil spill, and the fact that no one still knows for sure how much of the blame may lay with Halliburton, wasn't enough to keep Dow Jones and SAM from adding Halliburton to the sustainability indexes this week.
BP has claimed that Halliburton should share a huge part of the blame for the oil spill, and outgoing BP CEO Tony Hayward summed up the BP opinion of Halliburton's role in the oil spill with the quote, "It was a bad cement job."
Dow Jones, SAM, and just about everyone in the world have every reason to be skeptical of the BP report on the oil spill.
Yet since no one knows anything for sure yet, one could logically conclude that the "extraordinary events" of the oil spill should have kept Halliburton on the sustainability sidelines for the time being.
Dow Jones and SAM said in announcing Halliburton's inclusion as a 2010 North America and World Leader in the Global Oil Services sector, that the criteria for becoming a part of this elite group is based on a "thorough analysis of corporate economic, environmental and social performance, assessing issues such as corporate governance, risk management, branding, climate change mitigation, supply chain standards and labor practices."
It apparently does not depend on analysis of the Macondo well cement job -- which the U.S. government plans to conduct -- or ultimate judgment of the parties responsible for the worst environmental disaster in the history of the U.S.
Halliburton isn't the only oil spill-related company to this week make the roll call of the Dow Jones-SAM sustainability indexes, either. The manufacturer of the chemical dispersant that was used by BP to break up the oil covering the surface of the Gulf of Mexico
was also named yesterday to the illustrious group of sustainable companies in North America.
The Nalco chemical dispersant may only represent 1% of the company's sales, but it was a controversial player in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. There were many press reports highlighting the toxicity of Nalco's dispersant relative to other dispersants that were allegedly available for use by BP.
At one point, the Environmental Protection Agency even mandated that BP find an alternative for the Nalco chemical dispersant, a mandate that went unheeded, as BP claimed that there were no other chemical dispersants manufactured in high enough quantities to use.
The chemical dispersant that captured so much of the multi-layered controversy in the oil spill -- an oil spill cleanup agent that itself was considered an environmental danger -- may be a minor part of the Nalco story, and it did in fact play a role in cleaning up the mess made by BP and any other parties responsible for the oil spill ... and it is a portfolio holding of
, so who could argue with that? Additionally, from a field of global oil service companies, Halliburton may in fact be a "best of breed" company when it comes to sustainability analysis.
However, something just doesn't sit right about two companies involved in the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history suddenly being added to the list of the most sustainable companies in North America, just a few days after the BP Macondo well was finally killed.
I once took a graduate school seminar at the University of Texas at Austin on sustainable development, a special course sponsored by none other than
Royal Dutch Shell
. The course was structured as a series of guest lectures about concepts in sustainable development, with speakers from NGOs, academic circles and renewable energy and building companies coming in and enlightening the next generation of sustainability leaders about the ways of the world.
The final week's speaker was the head of sustainable development for a U.S. division of Shell, coming to lecture us as the price paid for paying for the entire course. On the final week, some of us were sitting around in the seminar room before class began, waiting for the Shell official to arrive and take his beating from a bunch of graduate students in love with their own questioning voices and who had been up all night studying foreign press reports about Shell in Nigeria to make sure that the energy executive didn't leave without at least suffering a minor blood-pressure emergency.
The Shell official arrived early, and shortly after taking a seat at the roundtable said to the group by way of an introduction, "I hate the word 'sustainability.' I think it should be outlawed."
I've got good news for the Shell official. In the just-announced changes to the Dow Jones-SAM sustainability indexes, Royal Dutch Shell was one of the biggest (by free float market capitalization) deletions made from the index series.
Yet now, from at least one albeit very judgmental manner of looking at the latest additions to the Dow Jones-SAM sustainability indexes, I have to agree with the Shell official's semantic dismissal of sustainability.
--Written by Eric Rosenbaum in New York.
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