Time to Wake Up: Corporate Climate Rankings
As-prepared for delivery
Mr./Madame President, pick up the paper these days and it’s hard to miss the headlines about corporate America getting serious about reducing carbon emissions. Companies are purchasing renewable power. They’re moving into carbon-neutral office buildings. They’re purchasing electric vehicles. They’re developing new technologies and products for the transition to a low carbon economy. Many are forcing some degree of sustainability out their supply chains.
All of this is important work, and the companies that are leading in these areas deserve real applause.
But. You knew there was going to be a “but.” And it’s a big “but.”
Corporations alone reducing their own carbon emissions or designing new low-carbon technologies won’t win the fight against climate change. If you want to fail on climate while looking good, that will work. If you want to actually win on climate, you will fail.
A new report, “The Blind Spot,” from the Environmental Defense Fund, makes crystal clear that individual corporate efforts to reduce their own carbon emissions won’t be enough:
While voluntary actions by companies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are important, only public policy can deliver the pace and scale of reductions necessary to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Public policy. That’s us, that’s Congress.
And EDF is not alone. Report after report has shown that we will fail without government action.
But as engaged as so much of corporate America is in greening their own operations, they are almost totally absent from the halls of Congress when it comes to climate change. AWOL. No place.
So government sits, stalled by the fossil fuel industry, and does nothing serious.
As a senator, as an inhabitant of this political ecosystem; I observe how this works. Consider this the field report of the biologist who lives in the jungle.
The sad reality of our political ecosystem is that, post-Citizens United, the power of big industries seeking influence in Congress has exploded. Where previously, big special interests had muskets, Citizens United gave them artillery.
On climate change, one industry, the fossil fuel industry, is deploying its artillery of big money and big threats here in Washington like nobody else.
No surprise: they’re defending a $700 billion a year fossil-fuel subsidy, according to the International Monetary Fund. They’ve got a huge interest — a multi-hundred billion dollar interest — in preventing legislation that would reduce consumption of their fossil fuels.
So they spend hundreds of millions of dollars on lobbying and elections. They fund dozens of phony front groups and trade associations to engage in all sorts of climate denial and obstruction. They hide their influence in dark-money channels. They pollute the public sphere as badly as they pollute the atmosphere.
In my political ecosystem, they are a big and dangerous predator. Ask former Congressman Bob Inglis. Ask former Senate candidate Katie McGinty. The fossil fuel industry is a multi-tentacled, well-camouflaged and deadly political beast.
And then there’s the rest of the business community. Retail. Food and beverage. Financial Services. Tech. Consumer Goods. Manufacturing. Most are taking steps to reduce their own emissions. But when it comes to doing something about climate change here in Congress, they just don’t show up.
And the result is entirely predictable. In an institution like Congress, whose currencies are money and influence, if one industry spends and lobbies like a beast, and there is no counterweight, the industry likely carries the day. That’s simple political hydraulics. It’s true in sports; it’s true in battles: if one side doesn’t show up, the other side owns the field. And so, the fossil fuel industry owns the Republican Party.
That’s why it is imperative that the rest of corporate America start showing up on climate. They’re here, many of them. They do lobby. They just care about other issues.
And their silence about climate change is deafening.
The good guys are just not on the field. They’re scared of retaliation; they have other priorities; they don’t want to be yelled at by the Chamber of Commerce; they’re getting what they want and don’t want to upset the applecart — there are lots of reasons. But it doesn’t change the outcome.
The fossil fuel industry exerts a relentless barrage of lobbying, electioneering and propaganda pressure on Congress. And it owns the field.
This statement from EDF’s report is really its central message:
“The most powerful tool companies have to fight climate change is their political influence.”
It’s a message that corporate America needs to take to heart. Republicans are not going to help break this artificial, fossil-fuel-funded, climate logjam here in Congress, until corporate America — the corporate America they listen to — starts to demand climate action. Not on a website. Not in their purchasing standards. Here.
In this ecosystem, the inhabitants know when something is real, and they know when it’s corporate greenwashing BS, or well-intentioned peripheral stuff they can ignore. They know who is serious.
EDF’s report says that any evaluation of corporate climate policy must include an analysis of its lobbying and political spending as it relates to climate. EDF is right.
And that includes whether or not companies fund anti-climate trade associations.
Another dirty Washington secret: many companies subcontract lobbying and electioneering activity to trade associations. Two of the biggest associations — the National Association of Manufacturers, and the very biggest, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the proverbial 800 pound gorilla — have spent decades denying that climate change was even occurring and obstructing any effort to reduce carbon pollution. Decades, they have done this.
And too many companies with good climate policies support them, with the result that those companies’ functional climate presence in Washington is opposite to what they say on their website.
The group InfluenceMap looks at corporate lobbying, and ranks corporations and trade associations by their influence on climate policy. Of the 50 most influential trade associations around the world, InfluenceMap shows the Chamber and the National Association of Manufacturers to be the two most opposed when it comes to reducing carbon pollution.
So look at those companies that are greening their own operations, but are also members of the Chamber, NAM, or both. Look at companies that don’t show up in Congress to lobby for climate action, and that fund the Chamber or NAM as they lobby against climate action. These companies’ net lobbying presence in Congress is against climate action, directly opposed to the policies they claim to support.
For years, companies that go out and brag to consumers and investors about how green they are simultaneously fund climate denial and obstruction via those trade associations. That’s got to stop; and in fact more and more consumers and investors are beginning to call on companies to stop this corporate doublespeak.
Consumers who buy a Coke or a Pepsi don’t want to be supporting the Chamber’s decades-long campaign against climate action. And investors in Coca-Cola and PepsiCo don’t want these consumer-facing, brand-sensitive companies to put their reputations at risk by funding anti-climate groups; plus, investors are increasingly concerned about how climate change may upend these companies’ water-dependent businesses.
Coca-Cola features a powerful statement about its commitment to climate action on its website:
“Climate change is a profound challenge and we are partnering with other businesses, civil society organizations, and governments to support cooperative action on this critical issue. We also recognize climate change may have long-term direct and indirect implications for our business and supply chain.”
In 2018, Coca-Cola disclosed that it gave the Chamber at least $85,750.
PepsiCo is even more explicit about the need for climate action:
“Implementing solutions to address climate change is important to the future of our company, customers, consumers and our shared world. […] We believe industry and governments should commit to science-based action to keep global temperature increases to 2? Celsius above pre-industrial levels.”
In 2018, PepsiCo disclosed that it gave the Chamber at least $500,000.
And Coke and Pepsi’s own trade association, the American Beverage Association, also gives money to the Chamber.
Net effect? For all their good work reducing their own carbon emissions, here in Congress Coke and Pepsi are net opposed to climate action.
Thankfully, some companies are beginning to realize that they can’t just sit on the sidelines here in Washington. Little Patagonia, the outdoor clothing manufacturer, has led the way. Danone, Mars, Nestlé, and Unilever have announced a Sustainable Food Policy Alliance to lobby Congress for a price on carbon. Separately, Microsoft recently announced that it was going to lobby Congress for a price on carbon.
Microsoft also stood up in Washington State to support a ballot initiative to put a price on carbon emissions. Starbucks, Amazon, Costco, and Boeing, big supposedly green corporations in Washington State, stood by and let themselves get rolled by Big Oil, led by BP, which spent $30 million to defeat the measure.
I know of no path to success on climate that does not include pricing carbon. That may be an unpleasant fact for some, but it’s a fact. Staying between 1.5 and 2 degrees temperature increase is another fact. We can’t miss that target. But we will, if this corporate doublespeak doesn’t change.
Work like this new report from EDF, and InfluenceMap’s analysis of how trade associations like the Chamber and NAM obstruct climate action, may help convince corporate America that its time to step up, get on the field, and demand that Congress take real action to limit carbon pollution.
Corporate America needs to go to the trade associations and say, knock it off: no more Chamber of Carbon; no more National Association of Manufactured Facts. Corporate America is paying for this nonsense, and corporate America can stop it.
Corporate America — the political force Republicans listen to — has the responsibility and the power to break the fossil-fuel-funded logjam in this body. When it does, change on this issue will come swiftly, and you will see bipartisan support for climate action emerge.
But we’re not there yet. It is still very much time to wake up.
I yield the floor.
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