Three recent changes at the Exxon Mobil Corporation could lead to meaningful and much needed improvements in corporate behavior and attitudes towards the growing existential threat of climate change and broader environmental concerns – or they may not. Only time will tell. New developments – a brand new CEO, Darren Woods, at the helm; a new board member, Susan Avery, with climate expertise and top credentials as an atmospheric scientist; and the sudden resignation of an advisory panel member, Sarah Labowitz, in protest of ExxonMobil’s unsubstantiated claim in court that the normal engagement of NGOs with public officials amounts to “an illegal conspiracy” – could prove to be a combined force serving to raise the company’s overall failing grades in corporate social responsibility. Or not. We are cautiously pessimistic.
Widely known (even among its peers in the oil and gas industries) for its corporate culture marked by stubborn recalcitrance and hard resistance to external pressures – especially those related to carbon emissions resulting from the products it sells when used as intended – these new forces may not be strong enough to overcome the heavy inertia of this oil giant. Woods is a virtual unknown; Avery is just one board member of thirteen; and Labowitz’s departure letter, while elegantly clear in its condemnation of Exxon’s use of vicious attacks in reaction to being the subject of multiple investigations, could easily fall on deaf ears. Moreover, even larger forces will now be at play: its newly departed CEO and board chair Rex Tillerson, now freshly confirmed as US Secretary of State, can be expected to favor more oil drilling over drilling down on keeping and improving international climate agreements. CSPW will continue to keep a close eye on things and report back on any changes in the corporate culture we observe: good, bad, or ugly.