How Does an Oil Company Rank Tops in Corporate Social Responsibility?

With Big Oil having effectively replaced Big Tobacco as one of America’s biggest “bogeymen” to the general public, it would seem downright incongruous for a major petroleum company to be looked upon as a model of corporate behavior. In truth, however, it’s really not that far-fetched. After the Deepwater Horizon spill, BP flooded the airwaves, showing people all the good work they have done to clean up the region, and the good works they do all over the world as an upstanding corporate citizen.

And now, in a survey conducted this year by the global research and advisory firm Universum, an oil company has come out on top when it comes to corporate social responsibility (CSR). 

Universum polled 20,812 business students at colleges in the U.S. to ask what companies they think are the “most ideal” to work for and which ones have the strongest social responsibility component. The students used Universum’s employer-attractiveness tool to rank and categorize what makes companies more desirable as employers. Including compensation and reputation, corporate social responsibility is high among the attributes.

Finishing ahead of the Peace Corps, the American Cancer Society, the U.S. Postal Service and other long-trusted names? Phillips 66.

That’s right, Phillips 66, the Houston-based 2011 spin-off of oil giant Conoco-Phillips, was rated the No.1 socially responsible company.

The results, and the Top 10, were posted on Forbes.com.

“Phillips 66 is known because one of its core products is consumer facing (gas for our cars, for example) and they have focused their business on how their products improve our lives,” Vicki Lynn, Universum’s senior vice president of client talent strategy and employer branding, told Forbes.

“Their business is largely focused on energy manufacturing and logistics operations, and they have focused on how to improve gas for cars, jet fuel, home heating products, and plastics.  They do this by supporting conservation programs, using energy materials efficiently, and demonstrating respect for our natural resources.”

Phillips 66 is a major brand, of course, and there’s no doubt students who participated in the survey are familiar with Conoco-Phillips.

Lynn told Forbes that Phillips 66 and, prior to that spinoff, ConocoPhillips, had a history of working hard to be a good corporate citizen, and students recognized that. It doesn’t hurt that the name and brand are known by many people.

“I think it is a high degree of familiarity,” Lynn said.

But are there specific reasons, business practices and/or projects that Phillips 66 has undertaken that have allowed it in such a short time to become so positively identified with corporate social responsibility? I asked Janet Grothe, a spokesperson for Phillips 66, to explain how the company has done it.

“For us, sustainability is about the long-term viability of our business, and the actions we take to achieve success including respect for people, operating excellence and ethics,” she said.  ”Phillips 66 is dedicated to enhancing the sustainability of the communities in which we operate. We are committed to sustainability, reducing our impact on the environment and contributing to the well-being of society.”

Phillips 66, the Houston-based oil company, gave financial and on-site support to Moore, Okla. after last May's devastating tornadoes. Credit: WTOP.com

Phillips 66, the Houston-based oil company, gave financial and on-site support to Moore, Okla. after last May’s devastating tornadoes. Credit: WTOP.com

A high-profile example of Phillips 66′s CSR initiatives involves its community service and relief efforts following the devastating tornadoes that hit Moore, Okla. in May. The company donated $1 million to the Oklahoma Tornado Relief Fund, and matched employee relief donations as well, adding $48,000.

Phillips’ employees in Bartlesville, Okla., and Houston also donated nearly two tons of non-perishables (including diapers, water and sports drinks, work gloves, and trash bags) to Feed The Children’s office in Oklahoma City. The company also provided four tanker trucks of fuel for emergency responders and provided gas cards to local churches to help with the distribution of supplies.

Grothe also told me about other environment-related projects Phillips 66 is involved in. The company has partnered with Rebuilding Together, to provide low-income homeowners with renovated, energy-efficient homes, with employee volunteers helping renovate homes in cities like Houston, Lake Charles, La., and Billing, Mont.

Phillips 66 was also right out in front during the Hurricane Sandy disaster that hit the East Coast last October, giving $500,000 to the American Red Cross and matching employee contributions. It donated more than 15,000 gallons of fuel to the Union County (N.J.) Office of Emergency Management, and $50,000 to the Linden (N.J.) Police and Fire Department.

In the United Kingdom, Phillips 66 has created a 120-acre woodland called Mayflower Wood at their Humber refinery, which Grothe said was “the largest project of its kind in the country.” Since 2005, more than 67,000 trees from a variety of native species have been planted.

When it comes to education,  Phillips 66 promotes school programs geared toward business and energy, Grothe said. The company partners with the National Energy Education Development (NEED) Project to provide U.S. teachers with training and resources on key energy topics.

“The partnership’s designed to equip teachers with tools and information they can incorporate into daily classroom activities,” she said.

Phillips 66 has also been actively involved with Junior Achievement for the last several decades, with its employees volunteering with K-5 students to provide energy efficiency knowledge.

In the area of health and safety, Phillips 66 has joined with USA Swimming for the past 40 years and more recently with Olympic gold medalist Cullen Jones to help educate parents and kids about the importance of learning how to swim. Jones, an African-American swimmer who works with kids in inner cities, has helped USA Swimming teach 1.7 million kids water survival skills.

Phillips 66, Grothe said, is also active in local United Way campaigns throughout the U.S.

Add it all up and it’s not hard to see why the business students had such a positive impression of Phillips 66; clearly they’ve become a model for others to follow in the CSR area.

Other companies listed in the Top 10 of the Universum survey include T-Mobile, City Year, Aflac, the American Cancer Society, Dow Chemical, the U.S. Postal Service, Johnson and Johnson, The Home Depot, and the Peace Corps.

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