Having worked for ConocoPhillips during an accomplished 34-year career, ConocoPhillips China (COPC) President Bill Arnold has served in a variety of roles across the world, with stints in multiple locations in the US, the UK, Norway, and the UAE. Now based in Beijing, Arnold brings his rich industry experience and global perspectives to the company’s extensive operations in China, which cover oil and gas exploration and production, LNG supply, and other relevant business services. In part due to his unique personal background, Arnold believes companies earn a license to operate only when they focus on serving local communities.
With his globe-spanning experience, Bill Arnold brings a unique perspective to corporate social responsibility (CSR) practices in China. Now in his second year as COPC President, Arnold started out at Phillips Petroleum Company, one of ConocoPhillips’ heritage companies, in 1986. In the 34 years since, he has risen from engineering roles to senior management roles. His postings around the world have given him the chance to participate in a wide range of CSR initiatives. It is Arnold’s Oklahoma roots, however, that give him such a special and distinctive perspective on CSR.
Learning the Importance of Community Service
Arnold grew up on a farm near Tulsa, Oklahoma. In the late 1970s, his parents became the first state-certified foster parents allowed to adopt a foster child in the state, and over a 42-year span, they fostered more than 200 children. Arnold says it was like growing up with 200 siblings because his parents were deeply committed to treating each of the foster children as their own. Foster care can be difficult for many children, but Arnold’s parents worked tirelessly to provide the children under their care with a safe and nurturing environment until they could find a permanent home. To this day, his foster siblings regularly bring their own families back to the farm for large reunions.
“My parents shaped my views about the importance of philanthropy, especially the importance of helping children in need,” says Arnold. “They never expected anything in return for their efforts and simply wanted to help children who had a difficult start to their lives. They are the reason why I feel a joy and a strong commitment to philanthropy.”
The lessons of his parents also shaped Arnold’s views of CSR. While many companies view CSR as an investment that can reap returns through reputational and marketing gains, government support, or talent acquisition, Arnold believes that companies should also be selfless and prioritize serving their communities.
“I am lucky to be at a company whose culture aligns with my personal values,” Arnold says. “At ConocoPhillips, we are guided by the SPIRIT Values: Safety, People, Integrity, Responsibility, Innovation, and Teamwork. We proudly serve as responsible corporate citizens in the communities where we operate.”
“We’re not doing CSR activity just to gain business value from an investment,” he adds. “We’re visitors in the places we go to explore and develop oil and natural gas. If we don’t have people’s stamp of approval, we have failed. We need to secure a license to operate from communities.”
Creating Shared Value: COPC’s CSR Strategy
An extension of ConocoPhillips’ global CSR mission, COPC aims to develop energy responsibly while creating shared value for all stakeholders in China, in line with China’s evolving sustainable development agenda and community needs.
As a committed partner in China since the early 1980s, COPC has applied this value in four focus areas: conservation, education, health, and disaster relief. COPC has built signature programs around these four themes, covering vegetation restoration, public eco-education, crane and wetland conservation, education for underprivileged children, youth innovation in oil and gas, and congenital heart disease. Since 1997, COPC has spent more than RMB 74 million on CSR initiatives through donations and programming, which has benefited countless people and families throughout China.
Light and Love
Since 2005, COPC has been supporting the Light and Love School, a private charitable school for orphaned, homeless, and migrant children in Beijing and Anhui province, helping tackle a range of challenges in the students’ daily lives and studies. In total, COPC has donated over RMB 6.5 million to the school, benefiting over 1,600 children. The first students that COPC supported have already become young adults, with some attending college. A few have even returned to the school to work as teachers.
In addition to financial support, COPC employees regularly volunteer at the school to spend time with the students, which Arnold views as a highlight of his job. COPC has hosted Christmas parties at the school for 14 consecutive years, where employees and their families visit the school to play games with the students and deliver gifts. Last summer, they visited the school to help renovate the school’s facilities, and to bring some fun and games – and smiles – to the children.
“The little ones at the Light and Love School have a special place in my heart,” says Arnold. “Our team helped install new beds in the school dormitory, and the children were so excited to have comfortable new beds. Their eyes lit up when they saw them. It was great.”
Heart for Heart
Since 2008, COPC has also cooperated with the TEDA International Cardiovascular Hospital (TICH) in Tianjin to develop the Heart for Heart Project, which funds heart surgery for children with congenital heart diseases. This disease is one of the most dangerous birth defects in China, especially in remote, high-altitude areas, but many infant patients are unable to undergo timely treatment because of poverty.
Through the project, COPC has donated more than RMB 11 million to fund treatment and surgery for more than 500 children born with congenital heart disease from across the country. In 2017, COPC also donated a screening van to TICH that tours remote areas and provides free screening, to ensure that infant patients receive timely diagnoses. Separately, COPC works with Children’s HeartLink to run the Creating Hope for Heart Project, which improves pediatric cardiac treatment capacities through overseas training for medical professionals.
“This project is so special to me. It has saved the lives of more than 500 children suffering from congenital heart disease. We are delighted to find that our CSR programs are making an enormous and measurable impact on people in need,” comments Arnold.
As with the Light and Love School project, COPC employees regularly visit TICH and other partner hospitals to spend time with children undergoing treatment, play games with them, and bring them gifts. “The smiles on the faces of the recovered children and their family members are all we need in return,” says Arnold.
Conservation and Biodiversity
COPC is also committed to nature conservation and biodiversity stewardship. Since 2000, COPC has been the exclusive sponsor of the Badaling International Friendship Forest (BIFF), a sprawling 1.3 million square meter forest near the Great Wall that absorbs 47,450 tons of carbon dioxide every year. COPC’s funding has assisted with restoring forest vegetation, as well as helping BIFF become an eco-education center for the public to learn about biodiversity in the Beijing area. Since 2012, COPC has supported the International Crane Foundation to conserve cranes and their wetland habitats in China. COPC has simultaneously cooperated with Jane Goodall’s Roots and Shoots organization to spark the interest of more young people in environmental protection.
As Arnold points out, many of the company’s CSR programs do not have a direct or clear relationship to the oil and gas industry. “We approach our programs from the perspective of truly helping people and the earth for the sake of it,” he says.
Providing Support for Disaster-Affected Communities
As a long-term partner in China, COPC views it as a responsibility to provide help and relief in the wake of disasters. Besides donations, one of ConocoPhillips’ most important efforts has been the development of a Disaster Assessment System to assist industry peers in ensuring a quick response to future disasters that are difficult to predict.
“When the COVID-19 pandemic expanded in China, in two days we immediately decided to donate RMB 2 million to support hospitals in Hubei province,” Arnold adds. “We just think it is the right thing to do as a responsible corporate citizen in China.”
On February 8, COPC donated approximately RMB 2 million to three county-level COVID-19 treatment hospitals in Hubei province. The hospitals – located in Xishui county in Huanggang, Danjiangkou in Shiyan city, and Qianjiang – faced acute resource shortages, but were receiving relatively less public attention and charitable support. COPC’s donation allowed them to procure critical medical supplies and provide funds to support the work of front-line medical workers.
For Arnold, employee involvement is an important aspect of CSR. Shortly after the first donation, the company organized an employee donation drive with a promise to match all employee proceeds. On March 5, COPC announced a second donation of approximately RMB 140,000 to help Zhongshan Hospital in Wuhan procure PPE, half of which came from employees. “I am proud that the majority of our employees contributed donations to support coronavirus relief efforts,” Arnold says.
In addition to supporting front-line hospitals, COPC responded to the unique needs of its young friends at the Light and Love School. In late March, COPC provided food supplies to the school, which was facing a severe food shortage amid the economic and social disruptions of COVID-19.
To date, ConocoPhillips has donated more than $1.3 million (approximately RMB 9.1 million) globally for COVID-19 relief.
Giving Back to Communities
Having worked with ConocoPhillips and its heritage companies since 1986, Arnold says the company has a “built-in DNA” to give back to the communities where it operates. Before arriving in China, his involvement with company CSR initiatives and activities have ranged from
cleaning beaches in Norway, to helping migrant workers in Dubai, to refurbishing the homes of needy families in Houston, to helping save a sick newborn baby’s life in Alaska. “The commitment to local communities permeates the entire company,” he says.
In addition to building long-term goodwill with communities, Arnold believes that ConocoPhillips’ unique approach to CSR has other benefits. Its emphasis on volunteerism gives employees an avenue for making a difference in their communities, and group volunteer outings increase employee engagement and team cohesion. “Some of my favorite moments at the company are when employees have rolled up their sleeves and done work for different groups or people. They become like teambuilding events, and they are among my fondest memories. You’re doing something good for the community and having fun at the same time. Giving back to communities, becoming a true partner of communities, is our license to operate.”
This article originally appeared in the AmCham China Quarterly magazine, 2020 Vol 3, which can be downloaded directly here.