Businesses want a price on carbon. That’s the message from 76 major companies–from PepsiCo and Johnson & Johnson to Nike and Levi Strauss, together representing more than $2.5 trillion in market valuation–that are in D.C. today to talk to policymakers.
“Climate is clearly the biggest issue that we have in front of us,” says Joey Bergstein, CEO of Seventh Generation, one of the companies involved. The company already has its own internal price on carbon, and is known for its focus on sustainability. But it’s being joined in its call for new federal policy by companies that may be less expected, like Royal Dutch Shell.
“The one thing that’s going to help business better respond to climate change is clear signals from policymakers, and there’s no clearer signal than the federal government setting a price on carbon that allows businesses to better plan for their work,” says Ben Thompson, senior manager of sustainability at Autodesk, which makes software used by engineers and designers and is one of the other businesses in the group. “It will send clear market signals to business on where they need to be innovating. It’ll be creating the right incentives to reduce the bad but also increase the good, and that’s really what we need to get out of this mess.”
It’s the largest group of businesses to lobby for climate policy in D.C. in more than a decade, coming months after a U.N. report made it clear how quickly the world needs to act to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, with roughly a decade left to make sweeping transformations. Businesses, increasingly, are moving to renewable energy and setting aggressive targets to cut their own emissions, both because they recognize the broader challenge and because most face direct risks like supply chain disruptions. “We start with the larger social responsibility and the fact that we’re in crisis as a planet right now,” says Bergstein. “But for sure we see the impact of climate on the business.”
Businesses can’t tackle the problem without Congress, the companies say, and the influence that industry has in D.C. could help make new climate policy possible. “I think there’s really good evidence that when business leaders raise their voices, we can effect change,” Bergstein says. Putting a price on carbon is only one piece of a policy solution, and he notes that the once there’s political alignment on the need for carbon pricing, the price also will have to be set at the right level to drive industry as a whole to change. But it’s one critical step. “Frankly, the costs of pollution for too long have been externalized to society,” he says. “Taxpayers each individually pay the cost of pollution, and yet companies are let free to go pollute at will, and that needs to come to a stop . . . It’s time for business to actually pick up the bill for the pollution it creates.”