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2014 AGM: Member Proposed Motion#4: Resolution to exclude the fossil fuels industry from the Corporate Sponsorship
by Annelies Tjebbes on Jan 3, 2014 - 8:58 PM EST

NOTE: This is one of the 7 official member-proposed motions that will be presented at the 2014 AGM.  This post provides an opportunity to engage in a discussion around this motion in advance of the AGM.  This is in an effort to better involve the membership in important governance discussions, and in order to provide the membership with the background on the motions so they can make informed and engaged decisions at the AGM on January 10th.  The board looks forward to hearing your opinions on these proposed motions.

Motion proposed by: Filzah Nasir, Rob Reid, Majd al-Shihabi


WHEREAS, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada’s mandate is to further human development with a focus on sub-Saharan African countries; and

WHEREAS, climate change kills 150 000 people per year, with the highest rates being in developing countries, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa [1]; and

WHEREAS, the consumption of fossil fuels is the largest contributor to climate change; and

WHEREAS, companies whose main source of revenue is tied to fossil fuels are irreconcilably opposed to combatting climate change through the elimination of fossil fuel consumption; and

WHEREAS, working to improve lives in sub-Saharan Africa while accepting donations from fossil fuel industries who are part of an industry that directly contributes to climate change  creates a potential conflict of interest for EWB; and

WHEREAS, in October 2007, in the Working Model for Corporate Fundraising, EWB has already established that they should not enter corporate partnership with companies “whose products or activities have a direct negative impact on our beneficiaries” [2]; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that EWB’s forthcoming Corporate Sponsorship Guidelines explicitly exclude fossil fuel companies [3] as a funding source for EWB Canada and its chapters; and be it further

RESOLVED, the forthcoming Corporate Sponsorship Guidelines be implemented within three (3) years to avoid jeopardizing the fulfillment of previously decided funding obligations, and therefore be it finally

RESOLVED, that this motion or the resolutions within it do not hinder any efforts current or future of EWB’s to engage in dialogue with the fossil fuel industry and that this dialogue focus on changing the dynamic between companies and the communities in which they operate (with regard to labour and environmental regulations, and local economic development) rather than encouraging companies to increase their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts;

[2] (electronic file users: you may have to copy and paste this link instead of clicking)
[3]The use of the term “Fossil fuel companies” in this motion is used for any corporations which have the exploration, extraction/production, refining, transportation, distribution/marketing, or sale of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas or coal) as their largest source of revenue. It also includes companies whose largest source of revenue is derived from profits made by investing or trading in the fossil fuel market or who have as their largest source of revenue the production of petrochemicals.


Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time and as a human development organization, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) understands that we cannot ignore its impact on sub-Saharan Africa and therefore on our work in the region. While EWB has had many contentious discussions regarding corporate partnerships in relation to the extractives sector, which should continue, fossil fuel companies are unique in that they fundamentally counteracts sustainable development and accelerate climate change. Partnerships with fossil fuel corporations also prevent EWB from taking action that it is poised well to engage on, such as around the Line 9, Keystone XL or the Northern Gateway pipelines, and with organizations such as Concerned Professional Engineers.

This motion proposes formally removing fossil fuels companies as a source of revenue for EWB in order to remove the conflict of interest that exists between fossil fuel companies and furthering human development in sub-Saharan Africa.The spirit of the motion is based in the understanding that we can continue to foster dialogues with fossil fuel corporations should we so choose without benefitting from fossil fuel consumption which is the leading cause of climate change. It proposes a dialogue with fossil fuel corporations that focuses on internal changes to corporate practices (their strategy, labour relations, environmental compliance, local economic development) rather than pushing for corporations to undertake development projects or improve their corporate social responsibility portfolios. The argument for divestment draws from EWB’s 2007 Working Model for Corporate Fundraising. It  makes provisions for an implementation schedule that would not jeopardize current ventures.

Mark Abbott, Jan 4, 2014 - 1:13 AM EST

We are excited to see our community continue to engage on the issue of climate change. It’s one that we care about as individuals, it’s one of critical importance globally, and it’s one of critical importance in Canada.

Until now, we haven’t talked substantially about climate change and energy broadly within EWB, or about corporate sponsorship from oil and gas companies specifically. This will change at the 2014 National Conference in two ways:

  • We will host our first panel on climate change and energy, thereby initiating a dialogue within our community about this topic; and
  • We will be discussing the draft Partnership Guidelines that the Partnership Committee has developed over the last several months, and that include many perspectives from across EWB. These guidelines outline a philosophy for corporate engagement and a process for selecting with whom we engage for sponsorship.

There is a lot in this motion, but for now we wanted to flag one key element that causes us discomfort, and that leads us to our view that this motion is not in the best interest of maximizing our impact:

Fundamentally, each of us is a contributor to climate change. In fact, it is very likely that many of us who are most passionate about this issue have higher carbon footprints by virtue of our ability to, for example, attend conferences, travel to Ghana or Malawi as JFs, APS, venture leaders, and so forth. We are part of this system.

As we consider this issue organizationally, we should be careful not to be lured by the promise of moral purity. We can't escape being part of this system, so we shouldn't take stances that give us the illusion that we are.

Instead, we would aim to consider this topic -- as the motion mainly does -- from a practical perspective on the impact that EWB can have.

At this time, practically, accepting corporate sponsorship from oil and gas companies allows us to significantly advance our vision. This year, sponsorship from oil and gas companies will enable us to launch initiatives like our upcoming intrapreneurship fellowship, and support ventures like Fail Forward. Additionally, this sponsorship contributes financially to our ability to host our annual national conference and to support our ventures and initiatives across Africa and in Canada. The draft Partnership Guidelines also address the issue of partner influence on EWB’s activities and voice, providing a means to account for this critical issue. We welcome your views on how we have captured this important intent.

Climate and energy, and choosing how to create the right diversity of sponsorship sources for a non-profit organization, are crucial topics in making EWB effective at reaching its vision. These thoughts are embedded in our current guidelines (including an intentional decision not to exclude any sector in its entirety--including the oil and gas sector--as a potential source of sponsorship. The guidelines don't preclude us from making careful choices within a sector.)

Significant thought by a wide range of EWBers went into this approach, and we don't want to change that thinking before we've had a chance to apply it. Hence we recommend that we keep with the process of testing our current draft guidelines without adopting motions that contradict the thinking embedded within them.

We know that this answer is not perfect, and we don't want to pretend otherwise. We want to engage the organization more fully over the coming year on the issue of climate change. We think this could be a great topic for a pilot Navigation Circle. This could create a space for us as a community to identify the actions we believe make most sense for EWB--and for us as individuals within EWB--on this topic.

the Exec (Alex, Boris, George & Mark)

Eric Limacher, Jan 4, 2014 - 11:40 AM EST
I believe limiting finding from any one donor or sector will allow EWB to remain independent. To my knowledge, this is already part of EWB's policy. Oil and gas companies are full of people who care about human development and the environment. They have an opportunity to try to change the system from the inside. Partnerships with EWB are one way to do that, if we make those partnerships more than mere sponsorships. There are national ventures and local chapter initiatives aimed at better engagement, and I believe in time they will yield more collaborative partnerships. I would propose that the motion be altered to limit oil and gas company funding to a percentage of total revenue, rather than eliminate it altogether.
Don McMurtry, Jan 4, 2014 - 7:43 PM EST

While this is the first time I have considered this topic from an EWB perspective, I do not believe the resolution should be supported. In the past EWB has worked successfully to influence Canadian government aid policy while we also accepted some degree of CIDA funding. Similarly EWB can accept substantial funding from the petrochemical industry while also voicing a coherent, strong perspective about the detrimental affects and causes of climate change upon those at greatest risk.

Canadians have a much different relationship and understanding of energy and environmental issues than many people in the world. While in Malawi a few years ago I would occasionally chat with a couple guys who spent all day slicing used auto tires into tie-down straps. When they could cut away no more material they would burn the tire to extract the wire -- that would divert my walk to their upwind for a day or two. One day I asked a university educated colleague about it and he believed that tires are made from rubber trees and there wasn't any harm from the burning tire smoke -- perhaps there are Canadians with similar understandings.

David Clarry, Jan 5, 2014 - 10:42 PM EST

To add a few thoughts to this, the conundrum of needing to move away from fossil fuels while also being dependent on them is a very broad societal issue.  EWB uses fossil fuels for transportation, and I expect that the aspirations of those EWB seeks to help would include getting motorbikes or cars.  There are also development initiatives to encourage people to switch from collected or harvested wood for cooking to instead use bottled gas - i.e. in some cases fossil fuels are considered a valid stepping stone in development (and the current growth in GHG emissions is driven by growth in the developing world). 

I am not aware of evidence that EWB is inappropriately influenced by donors - and steps such as strategically limiting the proportion of funding that comes from any one industry or donor act to reinforce EWB's independence.

In this context,  EWB wouldn't be demonstrating a sophistication in systemic change to suggest that simply not accepting donations from fossile fuel producers will achieve meaningful change.

Rather than reducing engagement, I think that it would be more in-line with EWB ambitions (and the capabilities that an organization with access to technical competancy should have) to put in place policies and actions that seek to reduce GHG emissions and encourage adaptation in the course of EWB's programs.  For example (by EWB Portfolio areas):

  • Small and growing social business - include evaluating businesses against climate change and educating local business leaders in climate change issues.
  • Adaptable Public Service Institutions - include building an understanding of at least climate change adaptation
  • Inclusive food systems - understand the GHG footprint of agricultural changes, and also adaptation issues
  • Engineering Leaders for the 21st Century - presumably a large part of this includes finding and implementing techonolical solutions to both GHG emissions and adaptation needs
  • Triple-Bottom-Line for Canadian Mining Companies - GHG emissions vary greatly between different ore types and process routes (and metals are also demanded by GHG reduction technologies such as electric vehicles) - EWB could define how we look at these issues in the "Triple Bottom Line" context.

These are just quick examples of what might be considered - but in general I hope the EWB membership will seek the approach of turning EWB into the leader in development in a carbon constrained world, rather than symbolically turning down donations from one industry in the GHG chain.  I don't think that EWB should be shutting out donors who make a product that EWB itself consumes.

Patrick Miller, Jan 6, 2014 - 5:41 PM EST

Filzah, Rob, and Majd – thank you for putting this proposal together. As someone involved in sustainability research and consulting I am excited to see climate change issues step into the spotlight in EWB – I also liked the reference to Concerned Professional Engineers. I do have some questions I would like to ask though.

I would like to ask a point of clarification - what are the boundaries on ‘fossil fuel companies’ – is this just large extractors and transporters, or would it include any company that is involved in the fossil fuel industry’s value chain. For example:
-would a large engineering consulting firm that provides occasional services for producers be included? Does the frequency and type of services matter?
- Would a specialty geomatics firm that provides occasional mapping services for exploration companies be included (are exploration companies included too?)
- Do financial institutions, such as banks, who may invest or finance exploration, development, and production of fossil fuel, get included in the category?
- What about other institutions and actors that could be said to facilitate fossil fuel dependence, such as automobile manufacturers?
- what about smaller transport planning companies that work on local transit or transport demand management with clients that are oil companies?
- Would universities that receive funding from fossil fuels either in the form  of scholarships, capital fund donations, or endowing research chairs, for example

I am curious to hear your thoughts. I think the resolution could be strengthened with stronger framing around what is included in a fossil fuel company, as well as a robustness to the definition so that it can be readily applied.

A second point, and this might be a bit pedantic, but your second statement “WHEREAS, climate change kills 150 000 people per year, with the highest rates being in developing countries, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa”  could be considered to misrepresent the cited source.
“Climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually.” (From your source.)

I think representing the source as an estimate would be more fitting and accurate to the tools typically used in analyzing climate change and its associated impacts.  There are many numbers that have been estimated for deaths due to climate change – ranging from tens of thousands to millions per year. (the WHO number is in fact a more conservative estimate) By including an estimate as a fact I think we open the motion up to a number of complications and debates, which could be avoided by recognizing the number as an estimate. Within the body of research on climate change impacts and mitigation there is ongoing debate about what should be included in estimates and models. By including the number in the motion as an established fact we are implicitly saying we agree to all the assumptions made in its estimation and are willing to accept it as a fact that will guide our discussion and policies as an organization. Again given the range of estimates (some as high as 5 million) as well as the complexity of the field of analysis, I would be more comfortable supporting the motion if it recognized the value as an estimate.

What I would propose is a statement saying ‘As of 2013 according to the WHO it is estimated that climate change causes over 150,000 deaths per year’.  Again, this may seem pedantic, but I think clarity in the supporting arguments of this motion is very important – especially as it will inform the way we fuel the organization. I understand this part of your motion as a key link between our sponsorship values (“whose products or activities have a direct negative impact on our beneficiaries”) and climate change and I hope these suggested amendments enhance, rather than limit this connection.

I also am curious about this line:
“WHEREAS, companies whose main source of revenue is tied to fossil fuels are irreconcilably opposed to combatting climate change through the elimination of fossil fuel consumption;”

This goes back to my earlier question around boundaries – there are many companies that draw huge revenues either from fossil fuels directly or in processes that are greatly enabled by fossil fuels. How do they fit into this statement?

Additionally, is this an active or passive opposition – or does it matter? Is it worth distinguishing between companies that actively detract from our understanding and action on climate change (i.e. those who’ fund friends of science’) and other companies that do not comment on climate change but continue to draw revenues from the industry? What if there was a fossil fuel company that was also invested in energy transition (I am not saying there is one,  but if there was I am curious if they would be included in the resolution or not).

Can you clarify this part:

“RESOLVED, that this motion or the resolutions within it do not hinder any efforts current or future of EWB’s to engage in dialogue with the fossil fuel industry and that this dialogue focus on changing the dynamic between companies and the communities in which they operate (with regard to labour and environmental regulations, and local economic development) rather than encouraging companies to increase their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) efforts;”

The way I interpret this, it seems like we are putting to vote that this resolution won’t ‘hinder future engagement efforts’, but I think there is a lot more behind it than is conveyed in the resolution itself. Are we voting on deciding that this resolution should not hinder, or are we saying that we know for a fact that it will not? I think it is important to be clear. In the former, we are setting a precedent for the values of the organization and the types of relationships we will cultivate – for example, I feel it is implied that if us not taking money from fossil fuel companies based on their contribution to climate change actively hinders our future work then that is work we should not be doing as an organization. In the latter, my understanding is that we feel safe as an organization that anything we will want to do in the future shouldn’t be impacted by adopting this resolution. This point has potential ramifications for how we conduct ourselves as an organization, the types of values espoused in the movement, and how future EWBers will interact with climate change so some clarification would be helpful.

Could you also expand the second portion on the contrast between improved engagement and CSR?

Thanks for taking the time to read over my questions and suggestion. I’m passionate about the evolving role of EWB in climate change and sustainability issues and I firmly believe that this resolution and its accompanying discussion are important as EWB finds its feet in this space.


Simon Woodside, Jan 7, 2014 - 1:18 AM EST

I think that if (and when) we have reasonable options to use non-fossil fuel options, we use them. Right now doing international development without using fossil fuel in airplanes, cars, motorcycles, etc. is impossible. So, I don't totally buy that line of argument.

Not accepting funding from fossil fuel companies would send a strong message to all EWB stakeholders that we believe that human-caused global warming is leading to substantial harm to the people we are supposed to be working for. That's a good message. If we're not going to send the message that way, then I'd like to know what alternative we are going to pursue.

Daniel Miller, Jan 7, 2014 - 3:02 PM EST

I agree with Simon. For me, this is not about freeing ourselves from participation in the system of fossil fuel production and consumption, but about sending a strong message to our members, the public, the world.

I wish to be part of an EWB that is outraged by the destruction, famine, dislocation, extinction, drought and disease that man made climate change causes, amplifies and accelerates, and even more outraged at the systems that prevent the world from changing course. I wish to be part of an EWB that is hopeful that radically different systems are possible.

Man-made climate change is an injustice to be confronted; a world beyond it is where the promotion of global human dignity will become truly possible. So I think this resolution should be supported.

In response to the argument that one should not speak for systems change if one participates in the system, Bill Mckibben writes-

  • "there’s one reason [for not acting on climate change]...“you’re a hypocrite.” I’ve heard it ten thousand times myself—how can you complain about climate change and drive a car/have a house/turn on a light/raise a child?"
  • I’m fully aware that we’re embedded in the world that fossil fuel has made... almost every action I take somehow burns coal and gas and oil. I’ve done my best... solar electricity, and solar hot water, and my new car runs on electricity... But... I’m still using far more than any responsible share of the world’s vital stuff.
  • ...that’s the point. If those of us who are trying really hard are still fully enmeshed in the fossil fuel system, it makes it even clearer that what needs to change are not individuals but precisely that system.
  • college presidents begin to feel the heat about divestment, I’ve heard from several who say, privately, “I’d be more inclined to listen to kids if they didn’t show up at college with cars...” Young people are asking college presidents to stand up to oil companies... If as a college president you do stand up to oil companies, then you stand some chance of changing the outcome of the debate, of weakening the industry that has poured billions into climate denial and lobbying against science. The action you’re demanding of your students—less driving—can’t rationally be expected to change the outcome. The action they’re demanding of you has at least some chance. That makes you immoral, not them.
  • From "A Moral Atmosphere"

Alex, Boris, George, Mark and David are right when they point out that EWBers consume a lot of fossil fuels, that "moral purity" is not possible and we are part of this system. For me this resolution is not about moral purification or escaping the system. It is about taking a stand.

'Continued fossil fuel extraction, lobby of governments against necessary policy change, marketing/PR to discredit (and even harass) climate scientists and activists and placate publics: All of this is an affront to our beliefs about what is right. We wish this to change, and we wish our members, the public, politicians and everyone to know we refuse to partner with those who oppose such change.' That's what this resolution says to me.

I agree with Don when he says "EWB can accept substantial funding from the petrochemical industry while also voicing a coherent, strong perspective about the detrimental affects and causes of climate change upon those at greatest risk." But we can do the same without accepting funding. Furthermore, accepting such funding sends messages that we accept the form, rate and extent of change that fossil fuel companies accept. But we do not; such a form, rate and extent is an affront to our beliefs about what is right.

I agree with the exec that this resolution should be considered "from a practical perspective on the impact that EWB can have." However, that impact is not purely a function of all the activities we can do with all the money we get.

A truly systemic consideration of our impact would go beyond a list of initiatives/activities and consider how our explicit and implicit actions and words :

  • influence attitudes, beliefs and feelings of all who interact with EWB
  • harmonize/fit in with/synergize with system change organizations/movements focused on climate change
  • express solidarity with those most affected by climate change
  • influence our own beliefs and feelings and visionary capacities

All of these and more are parts of the very broad systems that EWB seeks to change; our consideration of the impact of fossil fuel sponsorship should be likewise systemic.

Finally, I would like to say:

  • To Rob, Filzah and Majd (and anyone else who helped): thank-you for putting this resolution forward. I am not brave enough to put forward a resolution like this; I am grateful to you.
  • To the exec: thank-you for the transparent sharing of thoughts.
  • To everyone who written on why they do not think this resolution should be supported: thank-you for speaking up and out, I disagree with you but believe your voice matters.
  • To Patrick: thank-you for raising good questions. Also, you might find some answers to your first question in note [3] in the resolution.
  • Also, I note that I do not believe fossil fuel companies or the people who work for them to be evil or stupid or eternally, inherently selfish. I agree with Eric's assessent of those who work in these companies. Rather, our profit based and shareholder owned economic and political systems do not allow them to do anything other than continue to extract fossil fuels and try to make fossil fuel industry and consumption immortal. Through this resolution we take a stand against the worst impacts of those systems.
Kevin Hanson, Jan 7, 2014 - 4:52 PM EST

In this post I will try my utmost to stick to the specifics of what is being proposed in this motion, and the implications of it. To state my position clearly up-front, I am OPPOSED to this motion.

On the Role of Hydrocarbon Fuel Sources
In regards to the statement in the resolution that “companies whose main source of revenue is tied to fossil fuels are irreconcilably opposed to combatting climate change through the elimination of fossil fuel consumption”.

This statement that companies in the hydrocarbon energy sector are fundamentally incapable of playing a positive role in regards to climate change is incorrect for the following reasons:

  1. It does not acknowledge the potential of emerging technologies like carbon scrubbing and carbon capture & storage, which (particularly for things like electric power plants), offer the potential for a zero emissions source of energy.
  2. There is an implicit assumption being made here that all hydrocarbon based sources of energy have an equally detrimental contribution to greenhouse gas emissions / global warming. This is untrue and overly simplistic. A more accurate way of looking at it is to look at hydrocarbon fuels as a spectrum, ranging from 100% carbon and high CO2 emissions to 100% hydrogen and no CO2 emissions at all. The spectrum looks something like this (descending order of carbon intensity):
  • Coal
  • Wood/Charcoal
  • Tar / Bitumen / Heavy Oils
  • Light Oils / Volatile Condensates
  • Natural Gas / Methane
  • Hydrogen Gas

For reasons of energy efficiency, a global shift away from a carbon energy sector and towards a hydrogen energy sector is already underway as the technology needed for the storage and transport of hydrogen intensive fuel sources improves. The added factor of climate change means this shift needs to be accelerated. Strategies then such as capturing emissions from coal-fired electricity power plants or oilsands upgraders and reinjecting them underground, or replacing carbon-heavy fuel with natural gas are key steps towards a sustainable energy sector where fossil fuel companies are able to make an important and positive contribution.

Granted, not every fossil fuel company is working on sustainability issues like this. Like every other industry sector, there are best-in-class and bottom-feeding companies with very different philosophies on how they do business. For that reason, companies that are part of the hydrocarbon energy sector should be evaluated as a potential partner the same way as any other industry. That is, an objective, balanced, evidence based evaluation of each company’s merits where climate change / environmental impact are one criteria among many that are looked at.

On the Hydrocarbon Energy Sector Supply Chain:
As has been noted by others, a motion that chooses to focus only on limited portions of the supply side of the hydrocarbon energy sector while entirely ignoring the demand side is fundamentally flawed. Fossil fuels are some of the most heavily traded and used commodities in the world, and any attempt to extricate ourselves from that entire supply chain (supply, transport, demand, financing, engineering support, etc.) would be piecemeal, ineffective and incomplete.

If the goal is to identify how EWB can take positive action on climate change, a better strategy might look something like this:

  • Conduct a thorough, systemic evaluation of the entire hydrocarbon value chain and identify entry points where EWB could potentially play a role.
  • Determine what resources will be needed to undertake such an initiative (time, people, money), and where those resources will come from.
  • Identify which specific parts (if any) of EWB’s revenue mix need to be adjusted in order to accommodate that new focus area. 

Essentially this is the framework for proposing a new venture initiative, which is not surprising. Understanding how EWB is able to take action on an area is I think an important first step before making radical changes that will damage other parts of the organization.

In addition, the statement in the motion background that accepting money from fossil fuel companies prevents EWB from“…taking action that it is poised well to engage on…” is a subjective opinion that is not being backed up by any arguments or evidence. I would in fact argue the opposite, in that that EWB is not particularly well placed to take action on global CO2 emissions, and that other organizations such as Greenpeace or the Pembina Institute are actually much better suited to play leading roles in this area for a whole host of reasons. That is also a subjective opinion that I’m willing to be convinced otherwise on, but a strategy and proposal for of how and why EWB should be engaging in this area needs to happen BEFORE radical financing changes are proposed, not after.

On Ensuring EWB’s Financial Independence
This motion is suggesting that accepting any revenue from fossil fuel companies is compromising EWB’s financial independence. This is I feel the wrong way of looking at it:

It is a practical reality that EWB (like every other organization) needs revenue to operate, and this revenue needs to come from somewhere. There is no ‘perfect’ source of revenue, they all have their advantages and drawbacks, and to single out only the drawbacks of only one revenue source is not right. To entirely get rid of one revenue source would actually be harmful  to EWB’s independence since it would not only reduce EWB’s revenue base overall, but would make the organization proportionately more dependent on its remaining sources of revenue, which also have disadvantages that are not being acknowledged here.

Again, a better strategy might be to take a more comprehensive look at EWB’s entire suite of revenue sources and determine / refine the optimal mix, which would be small amounts from as many different revenue sources as possible. Instead of banning  corporate revenue from hydrocarbon companies, maybe instead let’s put more effort into generating new revenue sources, so that the entire revenue base gets larger and the percentage of fossil fuel company revenue gets proportionately smaller.

Also, language already exists in the proposed Corporate Partnership Guidelines to ensure that no one company or sector is making an outsized or overly influential contribution. If it is felt that the present language in the guidelines is insufficient, then the best course of action would be to propose strengthening the language regarding revenue independence in those partnership guidelines.

On the Impact to EWB as an organization:
Finally, while I am not for a moment suggesting that the health and well-being of any one part of EWB is more important than the health and well-being of Planet Earth, it is nonetheless valuable to understand the negative implications this motion will have on the organization itself. Corporate revenue from fossil fuel companies as a percentage of overall organizational revenue is relatively low, but it is higher for certain portions of it, two of which I will quickly summarize:

  1. As was described in detail in a previous post (, corporate sponsorship (all companies, not just from Oil/Gas/Coal) is 50%-60% of the total money needed to run the Conference every year. As a past Conference finance lead, I can say that Corporate Sponsorship is a non-ideal source of revenue for reasons other than Climate Change (small acceptance percentage among companies contacted, very difficult to budget & plan for, the revenue is not confirmed at the time registration fees need to be locked down, and it’s very susceptible to economic downturns). It would be great if EWB’s chapter delegates had enough disposable income to allow for a Conference that was funded entirely be registration fees, but that’s not the reality at present, so we have to work with the options we have available to us.
  2. The EWB Calgary Chapter (and likely the other Alberta chapters to a lesser extent) has generally been about 90%+ comprised of people who either directly or indirectly work in the oil and gas industry, and about 85% of our chapter operational revenue ties back one way or another to corporate / workplace engagement (and for Calgary, that means Oil & Gas companies). In addition, what we’ve found at the ground level is that the concept of Invested Partnerships is a very powerful strategy for engaging with employees within those companies. Corporate employees are much more willing to make personal donations to an organization that their company supports and partners with (United Way campaigns are very successful for that reason). Also, Invested Partnerships are not just about money. EWB and TransCanada have had a partnership for three years now, and during that time we’ve seen a substantial growth at the grassroots employee level relating to understanding and engagement on the issues related to extreme poverty, development in Africa, etc.  There is a community of engaged TransCanada employees forming organically that might not have happened had it not been for the EWB / TransCanada financial partnership catalyzing that process and moving it forward.

It’s reasonable to state that no-one in EWB is looking to actively block progress on climate change. In fact many current and former EWBers are actively working for oil & gas companies in their CSR, environmental monitoring, and climate change departments, they’re simply choosing a different vehicle than EWB to make progress in that area. All that said, I would also point out that when we talk about the resources that EWB needs to operate, we are not just talking about corporate / institutional money, we are also talking about people, and the time, energy and time commitment and personal donations they bring to this organization. I would ask people to think about why an enthusiastic volunteer whose career is working for a petroleum company would ever want to direct their volunteer time and personal donations to an organization that has so arbitrarily singled out their industry sector for hostile treatment? Any strategy of divestment from companies in the hydrocarbon energy sector would thus eventually  and inevitably extend to the people who work in that sector which will do the opposite of growing and expanding our organization.

For these reasons, the wording of the motion in that accepting revenue is banned, but that efforts to engage with those same companies should not be hindered, is a fundamental contradiction. The two concepts are intertwined and cannot be so easily separated. With a divisive issue like this, any decision made will require trade-offs, but I’m struggling to understand how potentially forfeiting EWB’s ability to effectively run a National Conference, or financially crippling / eliminating the viability of EWB’s chapters that are best suited to build relationships and make inroads with Oil & Gas companies, is a value-adding sacrifice.

In conclusion then, this motion I do not feel should be supported at this time. As presently worded this motion will not reduce the world’s CO2 emissions by even a single molecule of gas and would thus be making a symbolic-only statement on climate change. In contrast, the potential downsides and collateral damage to this organization are quite tangible and quantifiable.

Thanks for your time and patience if you got all the way through this post!

David Clarry, Jan 7, 2014 - 8:37 PM EST

To some of the points that have been raised above - it is quite true that EWB cannot stops our use of fossil fuels, but EWB can participate in the path to reduced use of fossil fuels and reduced GHG emissions.  The issue of climate change will only be addressed if everyone does their part - it is not for the companies currently producing and transporting fossile fuels to solve the problem of reducing our use of them.  It is the role of everyone from consumers to car producers to city planners to aircraft manufacturers to cement producers to electricity producers to vacation providers ....

For a start, EWB might start tracking and reporting its GHG footprint:

  • Direct footprint through travel (I expect the bulk of emissions from EWB activities)
  • Indirect footprint through the impacts of EWB projects (positive or negative)

Another step (as I said in my earlier post) would be for EWB to explicitly include climate change in the Global Engineering initiative, and consider what to incorporate in EWB projects to help developing economies be more GHG efficient as they grow and more resiliant from climate change.

EWB could be a leader as a development organization that incorporates climate change mittigation as well as adaptation in its programs.  EWB couild also encourage members to track their individual footprints (I know there are various programs to allow individuals and households to do this) - think of the power of an organization who's members each undertake to track and make public their impact.  It is that visibility and awareness that will help drive change.

I think some combination of the above would be a more powerful statement and a better contribution to addressing climate change than picking one player in the GHG chain and refusing to take funding from them - look at it that rather than reducing our funding, we can re-allocate some of that funding to carry out our own activities to address climate change.

Christine Blair, Jan 8, 2014 - 6:06 PM EST

Hi friends,

Thanks for putting a motion forward. I just wanted to echo the comments above (lots of people took lots more hours than I have right now to explain this way better than I can here, so I'll just say "ditto to most") that this phrasing I feel isn't appropriate or fair: "WHEREAS, companies whose main source of revenue is tied to fossil fuels are irreconcilably opposed to combatting climate change through the elimination of fossil fuel consumption; and"

Good points all around.

Let me restate that I think submitting motions is a great thing. I'm also concerned that what should be a moral and philosophical argument and discussion for EWB has been reduced (after albeit years and many many many hundreds of hours of debate) to a vote. It's one way forward, but I would argue that there's things which should be voted on by the majority, and things which should be researched and presented in an essay or committee. I'm not sure which one this is, and there is certainly a lot of excellent research been done and presented in this post. But if we asked politicians to vote on climate change, vs selecting a committee of scientists and business experts and had them make a recommendation, I would feel more comfortable in the later. EWBers are not politicians, so maybe I have nothing to be concerned about. But voting only works if you know the issues well.

I am opposed to this motion, though I look forward to the thoughtful debate and I believe the issue of how EWB works within a globe of climate change needs to urgently be resolved.

Annelies Tjebbes, Jan 8, 2014 - 7:22 PM EST

Hi Christine,

I like your point that it is a tough item to decide on with just a vote.  We are hoping that this topic can be taken up as a Navigation Circle topic in the future so that we can get a committee gathering the opinions of EWBers and also looking at how other organisations are handling this debate, and overall conducting a more thorough review.  

Cheers, Annelies

Filzah Nasir, Jan 8, 2014 - 10:14 PM EST

Hi everyone,

Thank you for the discussion. I am really grateful that you all are taking the time to participate in this conversation. I am only going to be responding to the questions raised in the discussion that were directed to the writers of the motion. 

As Dan mentioned your first question is covered in note 3 of our motion. We have defined fossil fuel companies as: "The use of the term “Fossil fuel companies” in this motion is used for any corporations which have the exploration, extraction/production, refining, transportation, distribution/marketing, or sale of fossil fuels (petroleum, natural gas or coal) as their largest source of revenue. It also includes companies whose largest source of revenue is derived from profits made by investing or trading in the fossil fuel market or who have as their largest source of revenue the production of petrochemicals."

To your second question: It was not our intention to misrepresent the source in any way. I believe we just interpreted 150000 being the minimum and thought it would be easier to state it this way. If you are going to be at the AGM perhaps you can volunteer to motion for a friendly amendment to change that statement to "Whereas the World Health Organization estimates that climate change kills 150 000 people per year..."

For your question regarding the final resolution around hindering EWB's work I think you're interpreting the resolution differently from us. Our intention in that resolution was to say that since EWB prides itself on dialogue with industry, our goal with this motion is not to cut off all ties and dialogue with the fossil fuel industry it is to cut off financial ties. If EWB chooses to enter into dialogue with the fossil fuel industry regarding their practices this motion does not seek to stand in the way of that dialogue. The resolution is not seeking to comment on whether or not EWB's work and practices in general will be hindered by this resolution. The reason for the distinction between CSR and community engagement is because CSR is often more about public image than positive social change and companies (especially in the extractives sector) can have huge positive impacts merely by reducing their negative impacts ie. meeting labour & environmental regulations etc. We think EWB should be pushing for the most effective change possible if they are in dialogue with the fossil fuel sector and that's not through CSR. 

As to your question about the statement "whereas companies whose largest source of revenue is tied to fossil fuels..."
I think you stated this yourself, it varies by company. For some it's an active opposition, for others, it's passive. We are not choosing to distinguish between them because even for those companies for whom it's a passive opposition it's often active if they are members of the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, the largest federal lobby group on matters of the environment. And the purpose of the motion is to ensure that EWB is no longer in that state of passive opposition by tying ourselves to this source of revenue. 

Finally to Christine's point regarding putting this issue to a vote: I agree that the AGM process isn't perfect and that this vote will happen without enough discussion on the issue. However, as you mentioned yourself, there have been countless debates on this issue already and hundreds of hours spent. Yet, we actually have very little understanding of how the membership as a collevtive feels. Everyone feels that something should be done but no one is able to agree on what. And these debates have not yet been able to affect the organization's actions in any meaningful way up to this point. I want to clarify: this motion is not about voting on climate change or a climate change policy for the organization. The reason we put this motion together is because we believe that this organization cannot actually kickstart the process of developing a meaningful climate change policy while we are tied to fossil fuels as a source of revenue. This motion will give us the first chance we have ever had to hear how the membership as a collective (all the people who have never been able to participate in the discussions for various reasons) feel about this issue and the results of this motion will give us a place to start on developing a climate change policy. If nothing else I am extremely excited that everyone will finally get to have some say on this topic. That's something that not even the most intensive consultation process would be able to guarantee. 

Kevin Hanson, Jan 9, 2014 - 4:38 PM EST

To make this point a bit more clearly, a fundamental assumption of this motion seems to be that accepting money from fossil fuel companies is the reason that climate change is not one of EWB’s core focus areas, and that a fear of losing such funding is stopping EWB from making it a focus area going forward. I feel this assumption is seriously misguided.

I would encourage the authors of this motion (or anyone else), to not make statements that presume to speak to another organization’s future intentions. To simply assume that oil  / gas / pipeline companies will pull their funding to EWB if a climate change focus area is introduced, and that EWB’s leadership is operating on a fear that this will occur, is not being supported by any facts.

No evidence has been provided to support the idea that the companies in question have ever in the past explicitly or implicitly tried to influence the future direction of this organization. You can read CEO George Roter’s entire post on the topic here: (, for me his key comments are the following:

"Corporations have not dictated how we work/what we do/what we say -- either directly or indirectly, including the advocacy campaigns that we have run or participated in. Funding decisions have been firewalled from programming decisions, unless this was on our own terms"

"We have not had an instance where a corporation has wanted to substantially advertise their partnership with EWB or leverage that relationship for significant public recognition -- we haven’t come across this yet."

As a counter-argument, EWB has now made Mining Accountability a focus area, but mining companies have still been willing to provide funding to EWB. Also, the Pembina Institute (an organization that has a similar operational philosophy to EWB in many ways), has been working on climate change / environmental issues for 25 years now (and making harsh criticisms of the oil & gas sector in the process). At the same time, they are simultaneously doing contract consulting work for those very same companies. You can read the Pembina director’s comments on the matter here:

Here are a few alternative ideas on how to proceed in this area:

  • Use this Conference to have a conversation with some of the corporate sponsor delegates. Ask them for yourselves what they think about CO2 emissions, and if they would continue to support EWB if climate change became a focus area. Their answers may surprise you.
  • Come up with a proposal on how EWB should be working on climate change, and include with it a thorough, evidence based risk-assessment that lays out both the positive and negative implications of such an initiative. Let’s make decisions based on real scenarios and assessed probabilities.
Simon Woodside, Jan 9, 2014 - 11:19 PM EST

Why isn't climate change on the agenda for EWB? Should it be?

Joseph Yang, Jan 10, 2014 - 1:36 AM EST

Hi Filzah,, Rob, and Majd,

Thanks for raising the motion and highlighting the importance of climate change. An observation that I make is that there is a recognition within the EWB network that EWB should take more active stance on climate change, which I believe is long overdue. At the level of accepting/not-accepting donation from such companies, as you can see, there is a lot of attention and discussion given for this symbolic gesture, even though this is slightly different than playing an active role in addressing climate change. For comparison, you can see that Pembina Institute, a well respected heavy-hitter in advocating for transition to clean energy, also received donation fron oil companies including Suncor, Imperial Oil, Statoil, etc., based on their 2012 annual report (quick plug in: where are EWB's annual reports hidden away?). Given that whether we receive money from these guys or not doesn't impact our transition to clean energy in any significant ways (remember, we're talking in the scale of hundreds of billions of dollars) and as long as we understand the implication of receiving donation from such companies and is clear and transparent about it, I think the worse it will do is damage EWB's reputation.

If we antagonize these companies, we play a losing game, and there is another way to go about this, I think - instead of focusing on the money that these companies give away, how about focusing on the money being invested in these companies? Hope to chat with you guys during the conference... I think there's a very good campaign that student chapters can lead which will be at a much larger scale than say a few hundred thousands dollars of donation at most to EWB.



Annelies Tjebbes, Jan 21, 2014 - 2:31 PM EST

Hi all,

Thank you very much for your engaged discussion on this topic, and thank you to the proposers of the motion for bringing it out in the open.  It is clear that the membership is passionate about the issue of climate change, and it will be important over the coming years to determine what role EWB might play in environmental activism or action.  This topic is one of the three that is being considered as a navigation circle pilot this year so hopefully a focused look at this topic will be enabled through this process either this year with the pilot or in subsequent years as the navigation circle concept becomes more well-established.  

Just wanted to provide a quick unofficial update as to the result of this conversation at the AGM (the official verdict must wait until the AGM minutes are approved by the board in March).  There was a lengthy, passionate and very well informed discussion at the AGM.  This motion was defeated by the membership, but as it was apparent that this is a topic that the membership feels deeply passionate about, the board is going to ensure that the discussion continues on this topic to see what role EWB can/will play in combatting climate change.  

Thank you to all for your fantastic discussion, and I hope it continues - either through this post or via other means.

Take care,


Tess Baker, Apr 30, 2014 - 11:47 AM EDT

Hi all,

Thanks for your very well thought-out responses to this thread. As the Board recently announced in an email from Annelies, the topic chosen for the Navigation Circle pilot this year is "Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability". The application process is currently open for Navigation Circle members--we are looking for six people who represent the broad EWB network. Every person who responded to this thread or had an informed opinion during AGM discussions on the topic ought to be considering applying for the Navigation Circle pilot, in my opinion.

If you would like more information about the role and approach of the Navigation Circle, consider attending the Info Sesssion happening this Friday at 12 pm EDT:

I have also attached the introduction letter and application form. Please send your application by email to or by midnight, May 7th.

Mike Kang, May 5, 2014 - 10:44 AM EDT

Hi everyone! 

This is to let you know that we've extended the deadline for applications to the Navigation Cirlces Team from May 7 to May 11, owing to the fact that we failed to share it when we first posted this. 

In addition, attached is a summary of the process and responses that went into selecting the topic, including why other topics were rejected.  This should have been shared earlier, apologies.

Finally, also attached is some background material on the Navigation Circles idea (in the zip file) which contains the original documentation of the thinking behind the pilot and the presentation from the Conference in Jan 2014.

Thanks everyone and keep those applications coming! 

Tess and Mike