Citi Breaks Energy CSR Promises
When a major corporation lays out new policies on social and environmental responsibility, it is truly time to celebrate. Corporate social responsibility policies have the potential to change market dynamics and speed up the shift to a socially responsible, low-carbon economy. Yet with every unveiling of a companyâs new CSR policies comes a question: how well will the corporation involved actually stick to its own lofty goals? Inevitably there are companies that trot out great-looking policies only to backslide months or years later by engaging in practices they promised to discontinue. Unfortunately this seems to be the case with Citiâs 2009 policy on mountaintop removal coal mining.
According to the corporate watchdog group Rainforest Action Network, Citi indicated in 2009 that it would shift away from funding companies heavily engaged in mountaintop removalâa practice which involves blasting off the tops of mountains to expose underground coal seams. Yet Citiâs recent actions suggest the biggest bank in the US hasnât really changed its ways much at all. In fact Citi helped finance the recent acquisition of mining giant Massey Energy by the energy company Alpha Natural Resources.
Massey, commonly referred to as the âposter child of mountaintop removalâ is up to its neck in mountaintop removal mines that destroy natural ecosystems and poison communities in the Appalachian Mountains. The company also presided over the deaths of twenty-nine coal miners in an underground mining explosion last spring. This last event contributed to a loss of public faith in the company, the resignation of Massey CEO Don Blankenship, and the eventual selloff of Masseyâs assess to Alpha Natural Resources. The dissolution of Massey, an increasingly controversial corporation, isnât surprising in itself. But whatâs startling is the acquisition by Alpha was financed by a bank that says it is getting out of the business of mountaintop removal.
It would be nice to think the departure of Massey will mean less mountaintop removal in Appalachia; unfortunately that isnât the case. Thanks to Citiâs willingness to cough up the funds, Alpha now seems prepared to pick up where Massey left off and continue this particularly destructive form of coal mining. Since Citi is willing to go along with this, it seems the bankâs mountaintop removal policy has been proved basically meaningless. The rumblings of a public outcry are already beginning, with environmental groups calling out Citi for failing to live up to its own professed standards.
Citi, like many companies before it, has talked the talk of corporate social responsibility while failing to walk the walk. Now the bankâs public reputation will have to take the consequences. The thing about a good CSR policy is can be easy to break, but not so easy to explain to your customers why you broke it.
Photo credit: iLoveMountains.org