This has been a long journey and a lot of work several years: jointly with a number of interdisciplinary colleagues, we published our article on the ranking of Arctic extractive industries in terms of environmental responsibility. We might think “how is this related to Arctic Anthropology?”, but it actually is a lot, both because of the content the method we applied are anthropologically inspired. On top of that, we also run an applied agenda with this article, and will be happy if readers further disseminate it in their own networks and make this ranking an “influencer” for the extractive industries, motivating them to perform better for the sake of the environment and the people inhabiting it.

The starting point to applied anthropology in this article is that extractive industries influence significantly the environment in the Arctic, and since Arctic people we work with inhabit this environment, their livelihoods – be they reindeer herding, fishing or an urban lifestyle – bear the consequences of this environmental change cause by industrial activity. So our thinking in this article is that the better a company performs in terms of environmental footprint, the better it is for the life of people in the Arctic. We thought that creating an index might motivate companies to rank well, and undertake measures to come in high. If this works, then the index could have a positive effect even on the life of Arctic people.

One specific feature of our index is that a lot of it is based on perception – a thoroughly anthropological concept, as we know at least since Tim Ingold’s 2000 book. In the article we describe how we use perception as a tool for ranking, and argue that although there is a risk of subjectivity, other tools for ranking companies such as self-reporting or review of media reports are not necessarily more impartial, to say the least. As people who worked a lot with perception of the environment in the Arctic, we thought that choosing carefully experts who could rank companies from their own knowledge would actually deliver a solid quality picture.

Although the ranking is called environmental responsibility, the people aspect is very prominent in it, because many of the experts who did the ranking had experience of companies’ relations with indigenous peoples. Moreover, criteria that entered the ranking also included “consent”, i.e. FPIC (free prior informed consent) of local people and “indigenous peoples”, i.e. policies tailored for minimising disruptions of indigenous livelihoods.

Scientific readers may now wonder how reliable is an index with such a method. Of course it’s not based on perception alone, and you are welcome to read the article, where we outline in detail the algorithm that our lead author Indra Overland used based on his methodology of SSSR (segmented string relative ranking).

The results confirm some previously known situation, namely that bigger companies often rank better than smaller ones (they can afford environmental protection measures and are more concerned about their reputation), and that companies in Norway often act environmentally responsibly (even though there are bad outliers in Norway too). But surprising was to me that apparently oil and gas extraction companies are ranked better on average than mining companies. Maybe there is some work to be done for the mining industry. We hope this exercise contributes in its own way towards improving environmental and social governance of extractive industries in the Arctic.

Photo: Loading mined ore to a cargo vessel on its journey from Arctic Norway, Narvik, to anywhere in the world. See the ship name: Indian friendship, Monrovia: Arctic extractive industries is globally relevant but should be locally responsible!

Florian Stammler

Read the original blog post here.

Link to the research article:

The research is related to the work of the UArctic Thematic Network on Arctic Extractive Industries.