Paper from the 2013 Pacific Energy Summit
Social License to Operate
How to Get It, and How to Keep It
This working paper by Brian F. Yates (SNC Lavalin Environment) Celesa L. Horvath (Ventus Development Services Inc.) was commissioned for the 2013 Pacific Energy Summit on “Forging Trans-Pacific Cooperation for a New Energy Era.” The paper examines the nature and attributes of social license and analyzes its growing importance as a critical success factor for resource development.
“Social license” generally refers to a local community’s acceptance or approval of a company’s project or
ongoing presence in an area. It is increasingly recognized by various stakeholders and communities as a
prerequisite to development. The development of social license occurs outside of formal permitting or
regulatory processes, and requires sustained investment by proponents to acquire and maintain social
capital within the context of trust-based relationships. Often intangible and informal, social license can
nevertheless be realized through a robust suite of actions centered on timely and effective communication,
meaningful dialogue, and ethical and responsible behavior.
• Local conditions, needs, and customs vary considerably and are often opaque, but have a significant
impact on the likely success of various approaches to building social capital and trust. These regional
and cultural differences demand a flexible and responsive approach and must be understood early in
order to enable the development and implementation of an effective strategy to earn and maintain
• Governments could facilitate the necessary stakeholder mapping in regions for which they are
responsible and provide a regulatory framework that sets companies on the right path for engagement
with communities and stakeholders.
• Social media tools empower stakeholders and communities to access and share information on
company behaviors, technologies, and projects as they are implemented around the world.
Understanding and managing this reality will be important for companies seeking social license.
• Voluntary measures integral to corporate-responsibility frameworks contribute to achieving social
license, particularly through enhancing a company’s reputation and strengthening its capacity for
effective communication, engagement, and collaboration. However, such measures do not obviate the
need for project-specific action to earn and maintain social license.
• The growing reliance on social media tools by stakeholders and proponents alike, and the risks
associated with disclosure through them, may lead to an increased need for the development of
guiding ethical and technical codes of conduct or other standards.
Brian Yates is Director of Environment for SNC Lavalin Environment in Vancouver, Canada.
Celesa Horvath is Principal Consultant of Ventus Development Services Inc., which is based in Alberta, Canada.
This working paper was commissioned by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada (APF Canada) and The
National Bureau of Asian Research (NBR) for the 2013 Pacific Energy Summit. The views in this paper
are those of the author and not necessarily those of APF Canada or NBR.