Few interest groups have spent more time in the wild than advocates of federal climate policy.
For them, it has been more than a decade since the Waxman Markey Climate Bill crater in 2009. Conventional methods failed. Perhaps, given this late hour, and the fact that a specific climate The bill may have some success in Congress, it’s time for some unorthodox approaches to a powerful player usually absent (or on the wrong side) of the climate policy fight: corporations.
With that in mind, here are eight ways companies, who widely claim to care about climate change, could actually show it.
1. Replace the chamber
Using the United States Chamber of Commerce to achieve policy or legislative goals is like using a hand grenade to clear your driveway. It works, but there’s huge collateral damage.
The Chamber is legendary for opposing progressivism in all its forms, and climate action in particular. It’s not the right tool for the job in a modern business world where customers want more from their brands.
One approach would be to create a new trade group – even if that means shifting lobbying dollars to a smaller, bespoke firm. Yes, initially this group will have less influence, but it will also focus on what companies claim to care about, removing brand dissonance from fundraising efforts that undermine stated values. Others will follow.
2. Stop funding the opposition
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration recently reported we will see one more foot of sea level rise by 2050. The equivalent of a century in 30 years. It will devastate economies and businesses.
If the climate metastasizes, it doesn’t matter if companies get that favorable trade package or that tax bill. Businesses must stop funding political climate obstructionists. Elected officials will likely vote for “business-friendly” issues, because they do anyway. Meanwhile, increasingly young and aware customers and employees will recognize this bold action with loyalty, and lawmakers will receive a message they can understand.
3. Activate CEO Advocacy
While typical Fortune 500 companies have robust climate language on their websites, most are focused on reducing their own carbon emissions. And very few CEOs have done a simple thing: publish an op-ed about the need for the federal government to pass aggressive climate legislation.
Not only would this decision have an influence, but it would also create a follow-on effect, as all leaders do, especially since rival brands hate being the last to market on obvious positioning. Climate change is unique among political issues in that we know for sure what the outcome will be. In a sense, we can see the future and therefore position our businesses accordingly, both as brands and as businesses taking meaningful action to help society survive the crisis.
4. Replace “government affairs” with “sustainability”
Reducing an organization’s carbon footprint to zero is honorable and good for business, but it won’t stop the climate crisis. And yet, staff in corporate sustainability departments often think they are helping their business become more sustainable.
In a world heading for 3 degrees Celsius warming, how is that? It is easy to remedy this situation by combining the departments of sustainable development with those who are really capable of slowing down climate change: government affairs.
Alternatively, companies could merge existing sustainability divisions in facilities or supply chain management and then change the government business name to -sustainability. It might add pressure to think differently and do crazy things like…
5. Pretend to care
Imagine government affairs departments actually believed that solving climate change was critically important to business success. What would that look like? Probably not the status quo of today, with big tech spending only 4 percent total dollars on climate lobbying, and Fortune 500 companies focusing their sustainability energies on operations.
Rather, it could mean that companies vocally support the climate aspects of a bill such as Build Back Better. Or make climate lobbying a top priority during visits to the Hill. Companies should do a thought experiment: pretend they care, then act on it.
6. Strength Multiplies
Many companies themselves are not politically powerful and connected – imagine a boutique restaurant in New York, for example. But most have business partners who are and value the relationship.
So, for example, the restaurant might serve Starbucks or Peets coffee. He can and should ask about the coffee partner’s position on the climate. If they are members of the House, why? Restaurants can choose who they do business with. If they change and make noise about it, it’s a black eye for the climate laggard, and possibly a trend. Conversely, if they adopt a progressive climate partner, it’s great communication for both companies.
7. Institutionalize insubordination
When large environmental NGOs put pressure on a company, the company is put in the spotlight and must react, at least to some extent. In private, inside defenders celebrate. Often young, usually ideologues, they are increasingly frustrated with the lack of meaningful climate advocacy from their employer.
Indeed, offline conversations with “enemy” NGOs demanding increased pressure – a form of environmental “covert operations”, albeit problematic (it’s insubordinate!) – are probably already taking place.
Given this, don’t companies need to change something? One approach would be a radically transparent, even public engagement with NGO lobby groups – demanding to be held accountable and, in turn, praised when management acts positively. While that sounds schizophrenic, it really isn’t: Companies mostly said the climate was a serious issue that needed action. So why shouldn’t leaders hold themselves accountable?
8. Recognize that choice has become an obligation
Perhaps the status quo on climate – guaranteed failure – is an intentional choice on the part of the business community. But climate change – and its constituents, which include all future customers – increasingly looks like the kind of problem that will force change rather than accept stasis. Getting ahead of this wave will require actions that seem crazy today, but tomorrow will seem obvious.