Finding the balance between political and economic interest: a qualitative analysis of corporate self-regulation in the petroleum industry in the case of Nord Stream 2



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Tartu Ülikool


In absence of traditional state regulation, corporations choose to self-regulate their behavior at times. Caring for the environment, initiating social projects, fighting modern slavery; the list of voluntary corporate initiatives is quite extensive. However, the motivation behind these commitments often remains obscure as can be seen in the case of the petroleum industry. Petroleum corporations extensively pollute the environment with their products and, at the same time, promise to contribute to its long-term protection. This research seeks to address the question why petroleum corporations decide to self-regulate in the first place and how they select the commitments appropriate to their business. Based on the psychological concept of self-regulation, the case study of the research examines the self-regulatory behavior of the corporations involved in the gas pipeline project Nord Stream 2: the executing corporation Nord Stream 2 AG and the investing corporations Uniper, OMV, Wintershall, ENGIE, and Shell. The qualitative analysis supports the hypotheses that (1) corporate self-regulation occurs as a consequence of tension between external political interest and internal financial interest and (2) petroleum corporations self-regulate with a strong focus on the energy transition and environmental protection. The empirical findings align with the literature review in criticizing the lack of appropriate quantitative measurements and sanctions concerning non-compliance with voluntary commitments. The voluntary commitments remain fragile with the corporations having absolute authority over their own self-regulation governance and little incentive to improve their transparency. However, best self-regulatory practice is being showcased by ENGIE’s commitment to the issuance of green bonds. By raising funds for environmentally sustainable projects through the green bonds market, ENGIE reacts to both external political pressure deriving from the energy transition and the corporate objective of profit maximization. The research concludes by pointing out that self-regulation in form of green bonds constitute an opportunity to both address the much-discussed credibility problem of the petroleum industry and serve a new and growing ESG market.