Championing Sustainability from the Highest Positions

Author: Rene Garcia


Currently, there are no U.S. governmental requirements or restrictions placed on companies to compel them into practicing sustainability. Many organizations recognize the value of protecting the environment, their personnel, and their reputation on their own, but this typically necessitates someone championing this cause internally. For ExxonMobil Corporation and its supply chain, that champion was Chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson. Today, he is championing sustainability as the Secretary of State for the United States government.

“Within an organization, from a sustainability standpoint, it always has to start at the top,” said Tom Cecich, President of the American Society of Safety Engineers. “CEOs have to embrace the value of sustainability to their organization.” Cecich explained that sustainable practices not only benefitted a company’s short-term goals, but also made the organization more attractive to the investment community. [Video Interview]

As Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil, Tillerson also saw effective risk management and commitment to safety as business imperatives, especially for an oil and gas supply chain. “In short, excellence in safety performance leads to excellence in business performance,” Tillerson said. “The fundamentals to manage safety are the same as those required for managing a successful business. Companies that have a strong safety culture and high corporate standards not only operate more safely, but also operate more professionally and more profitably.”

In 2013, ExxonMobil’s efforts to create a sustainable oil and gas supply chain earned the organization a Green Cross for Safety medal from the National Safety Council. The award read in part:

[ExxonMobil] believes the best way to meet this commitment is through a capable, committed workforce as well as practices designed to enable safe, secure and environmentally responsible operations.

Safety in the State Department

Tillerson readily acknowledged the risk that is involved in any oil and gas supply chain. He understood his responsibility to assess the risk and do everything possible to minimize or eliminate the risk. He said, “To do otherwise, at a minimum, exposes the enterprise’s assets and reputation – but most tragically, could put lives at risk.”

The State Department of the United States also has its own inherent risks. There are over 75,000 employees and many of them work in foreign countries that can be very dangerous and openly hostile. That’s why it should come as a relief that Tillerson is bringing his accomplished background in sustainable oil supply chains to his new position.

After being sworn in, early in his remarks to the State Department employees, Tillerson said:

“When I wake up each morning, the very first thing I ask myself is: Are all of our people safe? The safety of every single member of our State Department family, regardless of where he or she is posted, is not just a priority for me. It’s a core value, and it will become a core value of this department.”

So even though the Unites States government has not enacted any laws requiring sustainability, it is comforting to know that Rex Tillerson’s State Department is putting sustainability into practice. 

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