The Business Case for Speaking Up in Support of Climate Action
Regardless of political leanings, companies understand that climate change presents a significant risk to the American economy and recognize the urgent need for action. “One of the most important things that companies can do is to continue to elevate the voices that say ‘this is beyond politics,’” says Anthony Leiserowitz, Director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication in a recent Ceres webinar.
He is absolutely right. Sadly, climate change has become a deeply partisan issue over the last few years, and the responses to proposals like the Green New Deal threaten to further politicize this global challenge. Businesses, however, don’t view taking action on climate as a political issue: they treat climate change as an economic risk—and an opportunity.
For businesses across many sectors, the economic realities of climate change are clear, and delaying action or denying science is no longer a viable economic possibility.
Last fall, a series of reports brought the threats of climate change to life. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report warned that global temperature rise must be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius in order to avoid dire consequences; and the National Climate Assessment report detailed how climate change is already having economic and health impacts across the nation. Together, these reports underscore that avoiding the worst effects of climate change will require dramatically increasing the pace and scale of greenhouse gas emission reductions.
Companies are responding by making commitments and taking action to reduce emissions in their operations and across their supply chains. In fact, more than 160 major companies including Apple, Bank of America, Citigroup, Coca-Cola, Mars Incorporated, and Nike have committed to sourcing 100 percent of their electricity from wind and solar. Hundreds more companies have set ambitious science-based targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while others have increased their investments in electric vehicles. They take these actions not only to avoid risks to their bottom lines, but also, as Leiserowitz says, to take advantage of the opportunities throughout every sector of the economy. Companies see that a low-carbon economy is the future, and are taking steps to accelerate this transition.
This type of action is increasingly what U.S. consumers have come to expect. When asked by Yale researchers through a series of surveys over the last decade who should act to address global warming, Americans have consistently responded that corporations and industry bear the most responsibility.
Furthermore, 68 percent of Americans believe that corporations should do even more than they currently are to address global warming, including over half of those who self-identified as Republicans.
The bottom line? Increasingly, people are looking for ways to “vote” with their dollars. Americans view companies not simply as providers of a specific service, but also as partners in helping meet larger sustainability goals. In the eyes of consumers, companies have something to gain by prioritizing sustainability.
Many companies have already taken this viewpoint to heart, and a growing number are speaking up to advocate for policies that facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy. According to the Yale research, the majority of Americans are on their side. In fact, the Yale Program for Climate Change Communications finds that Americans overwhelmingly believe that policies that promote clean energy will improve economic growth and create jobs.
While support for climate action is widespread among Americans of all political leanings, there is still work to be done to move policy. Since companies understand firsthand the economic risks and opportunities, they have a leadership role to play in sharing their sustainability stories and making the business case for addressing climate change, engaging with policymakers on both sides of the aisle. With that in mind, in May, companies large and small will take Capitol Hill by storm to raise their collective voice and call for a meaningful federal price on carbon.
For our part, Ceres remains committed to mobilizing companies through our BICEP Network and beyond to increase bipartisan ambition around climate action at both the state and federal levels. We will also continue to lift up the voices of the many entities that have declared “We Are Still In” and promised to do their part to meet the U.S. goals of the Paris Agreement. We know that companies increasingly see that the bottom line on climate change goes beyond politics—and is just good business.
Jessie Arnell is a Federal Policy and Campaigns Associate at Ceres. Ceres is a sustainability nonprofit organization working with the most influential investors and companies to build leadership and drive solutions throughout the economy.