PETRONAS was the first Asian oil and gas company to publish its aspiration to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050. The company is now working hard at developing its pathway to this destination and the Chief Sustainability Officer Charlotte Wolff-Bye is leading the way. Her role is to embed sustainability into strategy and to ensure that the company has good governance to match.
“The task at hand is to deliver robust strategy, engage stakeholders on all activities, implement roadmaps and also set the pace for accelerated sustainability action across PETRONAS.”
Wolff-Bye joined the company in 2021, but she has always been associated with sustainability.
“Over the years, I have worked in a number of different industry sectors. I have, I would say, quite a lot of empirical experience to fall back on, including technical, field, but also strategy experience,” says Wolff-Bye. “I think all that experience is really relevant now in my role as a Chief Sustainability Officer at PETRONAS, because PETRONAS is a national oil company, so this is a company that's not only driven by market forces, but it has much broader responsibilities to shoulder.”
“PETRONAS is there to support the economic development of Malaysia, progress of society in general, and foster industrial development and so on. I think with my experience across a number of sectors, knowing perhaps where the pitfalls are, and drawing good examples, I think that will come to a good stead here at PETRONAS.”
Fascinated by innovation, Wolff-Bye was drawn to a career in sustainability.
“I believe in the private sector enterprise. Basically, business is where innovation happens. Business really is there to serve its customers and fulfill their needs, it makes the world economy go round. Coupled that with sustainability, I think you have a golden combination of transforming society for the better and for a better future, so I think that's my motivation for working in sustainability.”
The impact of COP26
Over the years, Wolff-Bye has attended many COP events, including the most recent one in Glasgow, which ended up in a compromised agreement.
“Now, of course, because our climate system is deteriorating, every community across the world will sense a change in the climate, and it's a great concern. These COP meetings have become the beacon of hope. There is no other process in the world that actually can bring momentum to action on climate change, so expectations are always incredibly high.”
For the first time, Wolff-Bye feels that there was a high level of participation from the private sector. People were showcasing the newest technology, matching finance with projects, seeking customers and bringing solutions together.
“To me, it was really a momentous COP, but of course everything can be improved. The world is changing, and with that also the COP process must change.
“Now it's important to also bring the real economy into this, because it is the polluting sectors and the consumers of polluting fuels, if you like, that really need to come together and solve this - together with the policy makers as well as the non-governmental organisations.”
Cleaner, conventional and renewable resources at PETRONAS
As the world shifts to a more sustainable one, PETRONAS recognises the responsibility to balance the risks of climate change, but also with the mandate to produce affordable and reliable energy, in a sustainable manner.
“We're really looking hard at where we can reduce emissions in our own production, and we are also focusing, for instance, on carbon capture and storage. This is a very important area for us, where basically you capture the CO2 from the operations, and then you sequester them.
“We are also looking at it from a commercial perspective, so could we perhaps also offer this opportunity for other sectors, basically capture their CO2 and help them store it permanently. This is one area that we are exploring.”
Like many of their peers, PETRONAS is working on renewables and has a target for 2024 to increase renewables capacity to 3,000 megawatt.
“We are making good progress towards this target, but we also are working in adjacent industries in renewable spaces, not just about energy provision,” says Wolff-Bye.
Influenced by the UN's sustainability development goals, PETRONAS has its own lenses of sustainability.
“We have something we call the Four Lenses, and the Four Lenses inform our decisions and our activities across the board in the company. These are about continued value creation, so it really is about driving long-term business value. Sustainability is not for charity or altruistic purposes. This is about transforming the business to be sustainable and also making profits in the future. It's about safeguarding the environment, creating positive social impacts. We must create social value, through our daily operations and adhere to responsible governance as well, which is really important to ensure that we're constantly reminding ourselves that we apply strong governance mechanisms and ethical business practices throughout. This is our top-down steer to effectively embed sustainability across our group, so not just through our decision making, but also for our daily business operations.”
The PETRONAS statement of purpose is, ‘A progressive energy and solutions partner enriching lives for a sustainable future’ and Wolff-Bye uses this as her guide as CSO.
“The statement of purpose provides us the direction we need for everything we do now in the business. The world is changing. Our industry is transforming like never before, and this statement of purpose, provides us the guide of where we are going, and it reflects our growth agenda and also the innovation we are aspiring to.”
As PETRONAS is predominantly an oil and gas producing company, the role of the company is certainly changing.
“We are focusing on customers and stakeholders, so no longer do we just supply our products.”
This is important in Malaysia, which will grow by a third in population over the next couple of decades, to surpass 40 million people.
“At PETRONAS, we need to make sure we deliver reliable, sustainable, and affordable energy to support progressive growth, but it must be low carbon growth.”
ESG at PETRONAS
There has been a tremendous growth in interest in ESG, but also in investments linked to ESG criteria. At PETRONAS, this has been welcomed.
“It basically rewards good sustainability performance. If you think about investor dialogues, maybe even five years ago, rarely would they have been asking anything about non-financial performance, but now actually I think the world has woken up to sustainability challenges around climate change, loss of nature and inequality actually impact any business strategy. Now that's being embedded into evaluation criteria.”
One strong aspect in ESG, is the number of women in business and what companies are doing to improve their gender diversity.
“For women in business, we've still got a way to go. But here in PETRONAS, we have such strong female participation in our workforce across the board. We also support scholarships for females in engineering and STEM subjects in general. If you look at our leadership, our chief finance officer is a woman. Our company secretary is a woman. Our HR head is a woman. They all sit on the executive committee. That's quite strong female leadership, but of course, what comes to women in business in general? It's not about changing women. It's about changing the culture of organisations and across the board.”
Throughout the next 12 months at PETRONAS, Wolff-Bye has her work cut out for her.
“We need to work with the wider ecosystem. We are only as strong as our value chain, so we really need to work with them - all the way from vendors to our customers - and see how we can come together to really make sure that we can together achieve a net zero carbon future.”
In the immediate future, Wolff-Bye will be attending BizClik Media’s Sustainability Live 23rd - 24th February and she has a message for her colleagues.
“Sustainability challenges around climate change, nature loss, and inequality have been on a slow burner for a long, long time. But now they have become existential to business success.”
If companies across the world don't manage to address these issues with gusto, the fabric of society really will be stretched. PETRONAS will do its own bit for that not to happen.