4 years in the past in the present day, many company sustainability professionals — no matter political leanings — stood shocked as they watched Donald Trump clinch the presidency in one of many greatest upsets in American presidential historical past. Many people feared for the way forward for local weather motion, and just about each different social and environmental subject.
We had been proper to fret — issues are, to be blunt, trying fairly horrible from a federal local weather coverage perspective. The Trump administration has deserted all semblance of U.S. management on the local weather disaster in the course of the very years once we wanted to be taking probably the most decisive actions to curb emissions.
It axed the Clear Energy Plan, gutted the Nationwide Environmental Coverage Act, weakened the position of scientific proof in environmental coverage and withdrew the USA from the historic Paris Settlement — a choice that takes impact Nov. four — amongst an limitless listing of different anti-climate actions. In the meantime, the local weather disaster has continued to devastate communities throughout the nation with record-shattering excessive climate occasions — from hurricanes and floods to droughts and wildfires.
With the most recent science telling us that we’ve got till 2030 to take the mandatory actions to restrict warming to 1.5 levels Celsius and keep away from the worst impacts of the local weather disaster, we are able to’t afford 4 extra years of what we’ve seen — or, quite, haven’t seen — over the previous 4 years.
I feel in all probability firms can be sensible to be very humble of their storytelling.
“If we don’t get a lot of the work executed by 2030, we in all probability aren’t going to get an opportunity to do a lot afterward as a result of it’ll be too late,” mentioned Invoice McKibben, founding father of 350.org, final week throughout a VERGE 20 keynote.
Whereas McKibben praised the proliferation of voluntary particular person and company actions to handle the local weather disaster, he emphasised that this wouldn’t be sufficient.
“It’s excellent that firms are shifting to impress their supply fleets, however I’ll let you know … the fleets I care about most are the fleets of lobbyists being deployed on Capitol Hill,” McKibben mentioned. “It’s time to ensure these guys aren’t spending all their time attempting to get the following tax break and to ensure they’re falling in line behind the issues we have to do to have a habitable planet.”
Whereas it’s true company sustainability continued to advance local weather motion even in the course of the Trump administration — and sure will proceed to take action no matter who sits within the White Home over the following 4 years — the local weather disaster received’t be solved by a hodgepodge of voluntary actions. It is going to require sweeping coverage change, and companies can and should play a central position in making this occur.
“I do suppose that it’s most spectacular if you get folks cooperating throughout industries to inform a narrative collectively,” McKibben mentioned. “However I additionally suppose that corporations can actually begin … in the event that they actually have a real story to inform, as a part of the story of their very own progress in the direction of understanding what justice and solidarity are coming to imply. We’ve bought to maneuver out of a world the place we see it merely as a zero-sum recreation the place corporations combat with one another to be the largest or the most effective or develop the quickest, or no matter. Folks have to know that at this level in Earth’s historical past and human historical past, this requires one thing a lot deeper, extra profound. I feel in all probability firms can be sensible to be very humble of their storytelling.”
Change the narrative, change the sport
One of the highly effective methods companies might help advance local weather coverage is by serving to to counter the false narrative that local weather motion and financial prosperity are mutually unique. Years of misinformation campaigns bankrolled by Massive Oil first labored to sow doubt over whether or not the local weather disaster was even actual.
Whereas the USA nonetheless has a major quantity of people that downplay or deny the local weather disaster, six in 10 People view it as a serious menace — up from 44 % from 2009, based on Pew. This modification in opinion is probably going largely as a result of the impacts of the local weather disaster — equivalent to excessive climate, floods and wildfires — have been too gargantuan to disregard greater than a sudden elevated love for science.
In the meantime, those that oppose local weather motion have shifted their methods. The narrative has modified from denying the local weather disaster outright to acknowledging its existence whereas claiming that taking motion to handle it will damage the economic system.
“The massive subject on local weather is getting influential corporations to affect policymakers and counteract the destructive affect of those that are attempting to protect the established order,” mentioned Invoice Weihl, government director at ClimateVoice, lately throughout a thinkPARALLAX Views digital panel occasion, “Model Advocacy: The ultimate frontier of local weather management,” which I moderated.
There’s loads of destructive affect to be countered — because the Paris Settlement was signed, corporations equivalent to Chevron, BP, ExxonMobil and others have spent over $1 billion in direct lobbying in opposition to local weather coverage in the USA.
“The massive problem massive corporations face as they give thought to model advocacy is political danger,” Weihl mentioned. Many corporations concern that in the event that they communicate up on a difficulty such because the local weather disaster, they may draw undesirable regulatory consideration to a different facet of their enterprise, which may damage their backside line, he added.
Transferring ahead, corporations should discover the braveness to beat this concern as a result of they’re uniquely positioned to assist change the nationwide dialog on the local weather disaster. In the present day, People usually tend to belief corporations than the federal authorities, an element largely influenced by the company response to the pandemic, based on an Axios-Harris ballot.
Values-driven coverage motion
Many corporations abstain from model advocacy out of concern of alienating workers or prospects by being “too political,” mentioned Will Lopez, vice chairman of Buyer Success at Phone2Action, a digital advocacy firm, in the course of the thinkPARALLAX digital panel. However model advocacy executed accurately is a pure outgrowth of an organization’s values that encourage workers or prospects to behave.
“After we work with organizations that discuss model advocacy, we’re organizations which are mobilizing their prospects or inner workers on coverage points which are related to their values and coverage initiatives,” he mentioned. “Your prospects already worth your product and values.”
Martin Wolf, director of sustainability and authenticity at Seventh Technology, concurred.
“Corporations ought to advocate for points and insurance policies that align with their mission and values,” he mentioned. This shouldn’t be executed to promote extra product, Wolf mentioned, however to place in entrance of the general public who you might be so that customers can be a part of you in advocating for some endpoint. “Ensure that what you do advocate for is aligned with positions you’re taking exterior of the buyer house as a result of if there’s a scarcity of alignment, you’ll be subjecting your self to criticism.”
Throughout the thinkPARALLAX panel, Michael Millstein, international coverage and advocacy supervisor at Levi Strauss & Co. mentioned that, earlier than advocating on a difficulty, the corporate places the coverage as much as a check of whether or not it’s in step with its core values and if the advantages of weighing in on this outweigh prices and dangers. “Local weather coverage clearly passes this check,” he mentioned.
Uniting sustainability and authorities relations
In lots of massive firms, company sustainability and authorities relations function in separate siloes. This lack of unity results in, at greatest, disjointed and, at worst, contradictory coverage actions. As I wrote in GreenBiz earlier this 12 months, among the best methods to make sure alignment in company sustainability and authorities relations groups is by making sustainability central to enterprise technique.
A method Levi’s does this, Millstein mentioned, is by holding each its coverage and company sustainability groups accountable for addressing sustainability targets. Whereas materiality assessments, for instance, sometimes are the area of company sustainability groups, at Levi’s the coverage advocacy crew additionally has a mandate to handle materials points. “This helps us all be on the identical crew,” he mentioned.
Enterprise faculties and sustainability individuals are taught to talk the language of finance and the CFO, however the CFO and different folks aren’t taught easy methods to communicate the language of morality, humanity and ethics.
If an organization successfully makes sustainability core to enterprise technique, there naturally received’t be a battle between departments, mentioned Darcy Shiber-Knowles, director of operational sustainability and innovation at Dr. Bronner’s, in the course of the thinkPARALLAX panel. If capitalism is a drive for good, then the time period “company sustainability” shouldn’t even exist, she mentioned.
“Companies should be sustainable and inherently socially accountable,” Shiber-Knowles mentioned. “So to have one division that’s not in alignment with one other division targeted on long-term sustainability doesn’t make good enterprise sense.”
But many corporations function removed from this ultimate — the monetary backside line trumps the sustainability crew’s agenda each time. “Enterprise faculties and sustainability individuals are taught to talk the language of finance and the CFO, however the CFO and different folks aren’t taught easy methods to communicate the language of morality, humanity and ethics,” Weihl mentioned.
The following 4 years
Whereas uncertainty shrouds the longer term political atmosphere across the local weather disaster, one factor corporations can financial institution on is rising expectations from all stakeholders to raised interact on local weather coverage, amongst different points. Simply as silence is complicity within the ongoing motion for racial equality, the identical may very well be mentioned of the local weather disaster.
“The No. 1 factor that may come out of the election, no matter who wins, is that the urge for food will nonetheless be there from customers and organizations to do one thing about local weather change,” Lopez mentioned.
Millstein agreed. “The end result will affect what’s on the desk, however there might be alternatives regardless,” he mentioned.
Bear in mind to get on the market and vote — and don’t cease there. We’re the final era that may do one thing concerning the local weather disaster earlier than it’s too late. One other 4 years of a Trump administration definitely can be a setback for the planet and everybody residing on it, nevertheless it doesn’t imply recreation over — any greater than a Biden victory means we are able to sit again and calm down.
Democracy is troublesome and calls for our fixed civic engagement as a way to notice desired outcomes. We owe it to ourselves and everybody who comes after to combat for coverage change that addresses the local weather disaster and secures a greater future for all.