COSIA’s Planning Framework

A wise man, or, at least a baseball player*, once said, If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.

Regardless, from the perspective of Tim Ebben, COSIA’s senior chief executive advisor, truer words have never been spoken. Tim, who is on secondment from Shell, was brought on to the COSIA team to help develop COSIA’s Planning Framework.

COSIA was created to deliver technologies to improve environmental performance of the oil sands that will make the rest of the world stand up and take notice. Random efforts lead to random results and we can’t afford that here at COSIA. Tim says.

The planning framework solidifies COSIA’s priorities and gives focus to our innovation efforts. With alignment on the desired outcomes comes an improved ability to work collaboratively and to manage the risks associated with developing technologies that will improve environmental performance.

This framework also creates a common language for the 13 member companies each of which have different cultures, structures, strategies and business processes, says Tim. The resulting alignment increases efficiency and prevents the duplication of effort which reduces collective costs.

COSIA’s Planning Framework consists of four main components: Vision, Aspirations, Opportunity Areas and Gaps, and Portfolio Management.

COSIA’s Vision

When the 13 member companies signed the charter to create COSIA, they did so in order to work towards achieving a shared vision:

To enable responsible and sustainable development of Canada’s oil sands while delivering accelerated improvement in environmental performance through collaborative action and innovation.

This vision drives all the work that member companies do through COSIA and is the foundation upon which COSIA’s planning framework is built.


The first component of COSIA’s planning framework is Aspirations; one for each of COSIA’s Environmental Priority Areas (EPAs). These are bold multi-decadal statements that aim to communicate COSIA’s ambition and direction for each of the EPAs. COSIA’s four Aspirations are as follows:

  • COSIA member companies will strive to transform tailings from waste into a resource that speeds land and water reclamation.
  • COSIA member companies will strive to be world leaders in water management, producing Canadian energy with no adverse impact on water.
  • COSIA member companies will strive to be world leaders in land management, restoring the land and preserving biodiversity of plants and animals.
  • COSIA member companies will strive to produce oil with lower greenhouse gas emissions than other sources of oil.

These statements establish a shared ambition amongst COSIA members and supporters,says Tim. As COSIA engages with broader ranges of stakeholders these Aspirations are critical to communicating our direction and ambition to accelerate the pace of environmental performance improvement.

Performance Goals

Below the Aspirations lie quantitative Performance Goals that describe concrete improvements in environmental performance to be achieved within a three to 10 year timeframe.

Performance Goals are innovation tools that set the environmental performance trajectory, provide focus for measureable environmental performance improvement in the oil sands, and calibrate the amount and type of innovation effort required. They are a quantitative standard of progress against which COSIA will report performance. The Performance Goals attempt to strike a balance between aggressive performance improvement and achievability.

While the Performance Goals will not add up to an Aspiration, they serve as important milestones on the road to achieving our Aspirations, Tim says.

COSIA’s member companies are currently working to define the Performance Goals for each of the EPAs. Once defined, these Goals will be communicated publicly.

Opportunity Areas and Gaps

Opportunity Areas represent areas of focus that when fully realized support attainment of COSIA’s Performance Goals, says Tim.

Within each Opportunity Area are ‘Gaps’ in knowledge, technology or else residual risk that prevent them from being commercially deployed. Closure of Gaps supports the achievement of the relevant Opportunity Areas. Each Gap is prioritized based on its criticality to achieving the Performance Goals. Gaps are closed through research projects, best practice sharing and/or projects to develop new technology.

Projects and Portfolio Management

Each EPA Steering Committee determines the portfolio of projects that should be initiated to manage their Opportunity Areas and Gaps with consideration of factors such as technology maturity, cost and degree of ambition in order to create a balanced portfolio that is likely to deliver long-term success.

Each year, around this time, COSIA’s EPA steering committees hold Strategic Planning Sessions to review their EPA’s Multi-Year Plan and set the coming year’s priorities, says Tim. They review the progress of the previous year’s Project Portfolio and determine what new projects need to be designed and launched to address the current priorities.

This Portfolio Management process provides a continuous linkage between COSIA’s Strategic Plan and the Multi-Year Plans of the EPAs. It also ensures the significant resources and capabilities of COSIA’s members are effectively utilized. By regularly reviewing and balancing each EPA’s project portfolio, the conditions are set for meeting Performance Goals and the ultimate achievement of COSIA’s Aspirations and Vision.

The investments in environmental performance improvement being made by COSIA members will take us someplace else, Tim says. With the benefit of COSIA’s planning framework, when we get there it should be the place we expected to be.

*Yogi Berra