Business Prof Has One Foot in Oil Patch

Oct 23, 2009

From SFU News Online.

By Barry Shell

In April 2009, Alberta oil-sands giant Suncor Energy was fined $675,000 for not installing pollution-control equipment at one of its plants near Fort McMurray.

But in a gratifying turn for academics, the provincial court applied something new called creative sentencing, which in part resulted in a $315,000 research project for SFU Business assistant professor Stephanie Bertels and colleagues at the University of Calgary.

The project will examine the nature of Suncor’s violation in order to develop new best practices for regulatory compliance as well as explore the benefits of creative sentencing for improving the organizational learning process.

Bertels has a PhD from the University of Calgary, a master’s degree from Stanford and an iron ring on her finger signifying an engineering degree from Queen’s.

She also has extensive experience in corporate compliance to government regulations and says, “It’s not usually a big event like an oil spill that gets you into trouble. It’s forgetting to submit an update report. One little error triggers a whole process that then uncovers other problems.”

Bertels says Suncor generally has a good reputation as a socially responsible corporate citizen. “They’re a company trying to be good within an industry that faces a lot of scrutiny. It took courage on their part to propose a study like this.”

One of the project outcomes will be a two-day workshop in Calgary with regulators and oil and gas industry executives that uses the details of the case to discuss industry best practices.

Bertels says although she is trained both as an environmental engineer and an organization theorist, she enjoys teaching at a business school. “I can have way more impact than preaching to the choir in an environmental studies program.”

She challenges business students to think about sustainability issues, something they might not ordinarily imagine to be part of their training.

In fact, she notes, SFU Business is gaining a solid reputation for its expertise in sustainability.

“SFU Business has some truly fantastic researchers in the area of sustainability and that’s what attracted me to come work at SFU.”