March 18, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0

As delivered on the Senate floor

Mr. President, to change the subject from sentencing reform to climate change, I come to the Floor today for – I guess, it’s the 93rd consecutive week that the Senate has been in session, to urge that my colleagues to wake up to the urgent threat of what results from our levels of carbon pollution.  It is an opportune time now to consider a step-up in American corporate responsibility on climate change—call it Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0. 

Americans can celebrate and applaud the fact that America’s corporate leaders have taken so many important steps on climate change.  Companies like Walmart and Coca-Cola, to pick just two, see the problem clearly and have done great things.

Walmart, for instance, has taken exemplary responsibility for its carbon footprint, not only within its facilities, but beyond the corporate walls out to its international supply chain.  Walmart has led the move for consumers away from incandescent bulbs and into high-efficiency lighting.  And if you have ever used that machine where you have to crank electricity in order to light up an incandescent bulb and then do the same thing for a high-efficiency bulb, you’ve had an unforgettable experience of how much more efficient those modern bulbs are.  Walmart has strong and responsible carbon policies, and Walmart has made a successful business model of saving money by reducing carbon emissions.  Walmart even has an internal price on carbon, so it can properly evaluate its processes and its own facilities against its climate standards.  And it’s nothing new for Walmart.  A decade ago, Walmart’s then-CEO Lee Scott said, “The science is in and it is overwhelming.  We believe every company has a responsibility to reduce greenhouse gases as quickly as it can.”

Coca-Cola, the other company I mentioned, has exemplary carbon policies, too.  Coca-Cola knows how disruptive climate change can be on the water supply that is the most basic need of its bottling facilities.  They too have found the sweet spot of saving money by reducing their carbon output.  As the Arctic melts, Coca-Cola even put a polar bear on its iconic Coke can.  Muhtar Kent, Coca-Cola’s CEO, has said, “It is absolutely imperative that our commitment to a low-carbon future be fully understood.  We’re here to lend a Coca-Cola voice to the public and political debate on getting to a fair framework, an inclusive framework, an effective framework so that we can achieve climate protection.”

Many other major corporations have, too.  There’s Google and Apple.  Apparel giants VF Corporation and Nike.  Mars and Nestle and Cargill.  General Motors and the Ford Motor Company.  UPS and FedEx.  Unilever and Starbucks.  All are, in different ways, clear-eyed and responsible climate champions. 

So there is a lot to celebrate from America’s corporate leaders, Mr. President. 

But there is more to be done.  And we are right now at a societal and political tipping point on climate change where corporations that are already good on climate change—corporations that are sensible and responsible on climate change—can make a big difference by taking it up one more step, and putting their politics where there policies are.

So what is putting your politics where your policies are? 

First, it’s making climate change an issue, something you talk about, when you come to Congress.  I don’t know whether Walmart has ever spoken to Senator Boozman or Senator Cotton, from their home state of Arkansas, about climate change.  I know they never spoke to Senator Mark Pryor when he was in the Senate, because he told me so.  I don’t know whether Coca-Cola has ever spoken about climate change to Senators Isakson or Perdue, from Coca-Cola’s home state of Georgia. 

It’s not just them.  I pick Walmart and Coca-Cola out because they are two of the best companies on carbon reduction.  I actually don’t know of one major American corporation that makes climate change a priority when it comes here to Washington and lobbies Congress.  Not one.   America’s corporate leaders can have great carbon reduction policies, but when they come to Congress that’s not on the agenda of their politics.  If it were, it would make a difference.

I know it’s not easy.  Senior corporate leaders in major American companies have told me and others that they fear retribution if they lobby on climate change; that they’ll be punished on tax or trade or liability or regulatory or other issues that they have here in Congress.  That’s how ugly and rough the fossil fuel lobby is around here.

But there’s an answer:  group up.  The fossil fuel industry and its allies in Congress can’t punish everyone.  They can’t punish Coke and Pepsi, and Walmart and Target, and VF Corporation and Nike, and Apple and Google, and Ford and GM, and Mars and Nestle and Unilever.  They can’t punish you all.

So please, I ask our corporate leaders, make an agreement with one another, that you will not abandon your climate principles when you come to Congress. 

If good corporations won’t speak up, the only corporate force lobbying and politicking Congress on climate change is the fossil fuel industry, and you will get exactly what you have now:  a Congress in which members fear to take action on climate, because they know one side—the fossil fuel boys—will punish them, and they don’t know any other side that will help them. 

So the first part of Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0 is don’t abandon all hope, ye who enter here. Don’t check your principles at the door.

A second part of Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0 is to stand by your principles with those who advocate for you.

The best corporate citizens push their good climate policies out, beyond their corporate walls, out into their supply chains; and they insist that their suppliers comply with those climate principles.  They won’t do business with suppliers that don’t abide by their climate principles. 

So it would be consistent to push their good climate policies out into their advocacy organizations, too, and insist that their advocates comply with those same climate principles—just like their suppliers must.  They ought not do business with advocacy groups that won’t abide by their climate principles. 

What am I talking about?

I’ve described how good Coca-Cola has been on climate issues, and it is terrific on climate issues.  Well, Coca-Cola and its bottlers are important, vital members of the American Beverage Association, which sits on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which is one of the worst climate denial organizations and which is a persistent obstacle to any responsible action on carbon emissions. 

Similarly, Verizon, 3M, and Ford, all with good climate policies, all sit on the board of this organization with opposite policies.  If they wouldn’t put up with it from their suppliers, if their suppliers flouted their principles, why put up with it from a corporate mouthpiece they support, but that flouts their principles? 

If corporate climate change policies are important enough to push beyond the corporate walls and into the supply chain, they should be important enough to push beyond the corporate walls and into the corporations’ advocacy organizations.  It doesn’t make sense for corporations to speak out of one side of their mouths on climate change, and then contradict themselves through their corporate mouthpieces, their advocacy organizations. 

Some don’t.  Nike resigned from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors over the Chamber’s horrible climate policies.  Apple left the Chamber altogether.  So have big electric utility companies like Exelon and PG&E, and so have many local chambers of commerce.  Google left the American Legislative Exchange Council, known as ALEC.  When Google left ALEC last year, because of that group’s bad climate position, Google CEO Eric Schmidt said of the group, “they are literally lying” about climate change. 

You don’t need to support an organization that is “literally lying” about climate change. Not under Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0, it is not necessary to have your own trade association or legislative organization arguing against you. 

The same should be true of opinion outlets.  For decades, the Wall Street Journal has been an important and respected voice of the business community.  But now, on climate change, the Wall Street Journal editorial page never reflects the views on climate change of most of America’s corporate leaders—only it’s fossil-fuel corporate leaders.  That page has become exclusively the voice of the fossil fuel industry, and of their climate denial front organizations.  In fact, in some ways, you could say the Wall Street Journal editorial page has actually become a climate denial front organization. 

The fossil fuel companies have co-opted the Wall Street Journal editorial page.  And where is the objection from American corporations, big well-known American corporations, who have spent millions and millions of dollars  addressing carbon emissions; who have spent enormous corporate effort, all the way up to the CEO level, dedicated to a carbon solution; and who have developed great policies on climate change?  Why be silent when the voice of the business community is saying the exact opposite of what you have worked so hard for and care so much about?  Under Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0, companies like that could stand up for their own, well-established climate principles, and against the opposition to their own corporate principles from the Wall Street Journal editorial page. 

Mr. President, I feel we are so close to getting something done, something big done, on climate change.  Our corporate sector has shown so much leadership.  And the great American corporate leadership on climate change aligns exactly with what America’s science leadership is also saying; the great American corporate leadership on climate change aligns exactly with what America’s military and national security leaders are also saying; the great American corporate leadership on climate change aligns exactly with what so many of our religious leaders are saying, all the way up to Pope Francis; and of course American corporate leadership on climate change aligns with what Americans—the customers of these corporations—want and expect. 

So let’s take it up a step.  Let’s ask our corporate leaders to step it up to Corporate Climate Responsibility 2.0.  Take your existing good policies, and line them up with your politics.  Take what you demand of your suppliers and demand the same of your advocates. That would be a big way for America’s corporate leaders to help this body wake up. 

I yield the floor.