community engagement, environment, NGO, politics, sustainability

The social license to operate


One of the terms of references I’ve had to work with often with clients in contentious industries is the “social license to operate”.

The social license which was once perceived to be the consent or permission to operate within an immediate community has increasingly seen its definition of community widening. Beyond immediate local residents, businesses, community groups and governments, the sphere of influencers who have their say in giving legitimacy to this license, is increasingly broadened not only domestically but internationally.

When financial institutions such as AMP and Hunter Hall enforced its RIL principles in the types of companies it invests in, we start to see the positive impact it has on oil, gas and fuel companies – who may have a formal license to operate but their social license to operate diminishing outside of the traditional confines of its community.

This is why bureaucratic decisions to grant permission to companies like Metgasco and Whitehaven Coal have failed with the lack of community engagement. I don’t believe these companies or the planning authorities would not have imagined the extent or the number of stakeholders that were emotionally or ideologically attached to these social licenses to operate in the region. Over the last few weeks, it has become increasingly apparent that “undefined communities” were emerging and they had reinforced their opposition in a stronger and more vocal manner. I salute and support groups like Lock the Gate Alliance for creating awareness amongst the wider communities who have shown that these exploration and mining projects have far reaching implications beyond just a small region but to every individual living in Australia.

But why then do consultations on coal seam gas seem to only fall within the peripheral boundaries of the states – the Victorian Government’s Natural Gas Community Information “consultation” is a good example.

The environment belongs to everyone of us and the future generations so I would like to see a national register for development consent on projects that impact on Australia’s natural environment where everyone has the right to review and make a submission. Its time we restored transparency into investment led projects that affect the environment and to rethink who ultimately grants businesses the social license to operate.

Its you. Its me.


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