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Why companies that claim to be ‘pro-climate’ aren’t pushing for Biden’s climate plan

Companies like Google, Nike, PepsiCo, and Tesla are vocal about reducing their emissions and hitting the Paris Climate goals. But as the Build Back Better Act stalls in Congress, they’re quiet—if not also supporting organizations lobbying to scuttle it.

Why companies that claim to be ‘pro-climate’ aren’t pushing for Biden’s climate plan
[Source Photo: Ljupco/iStock]
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When Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accords in 2017, companies like Google, Nike, Microsoft, and many others quickly made it clear that they thought it was a mistake. “We believe climate change is an urgent issue that demands global action,” Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella tweeted at the time. But pro-climate companies have been slower to get behind the climate solutions in the Build Back Better Act, the currently pending legislation that would be the biggest step on climate ever taken by the U.S.—and something that climate advocates say should happen now to have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

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In a new ranking, the nonprofit ClimateVoice looked at 20 large American companies that another organization, InfluenceMap, calls “climate positive” because of their advocacy in the past. None of the companies are fully throwing their weight behind the Build Back Better Act pending in the budget bill, which includes measures to shift the country to clean power, incentivize electric vehicles and build charging stations, help retrofit homes, reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture, and more. The nonprofit considered whether companies had endorsed the climate provisions in the bill, whether they support the revenue provisions to pay for the climate policies, and whether they had publicly opposed the trade associations that are actively lobbying against the bill.

Twelve of the companies haven’t taken any of those three steps, the analysis found: 3M, Cisco Systems, Coca-Cola, Google, HP, J&J, McDonald’s, Nike, PepsiCo, Pfizer, Qualcomm, and Tesla. Fast Company reached out to each of the companies for comment and several companies responded:

  • Google pointed out that its VP of Government Affairs had tweeted in support of “pending legislative proposals that would invest in green tech innovation, modernize our power grid, promote public transit, and protect against weather disasters.” (ClimateVoice responded to this tweet, but said that they never heard more.)
  • Coca-Cola said in a statement that, “We appreciate the efforts of U.S. policymakers to address our nation’s infrastructure needs and climate goals, and we encourage open dialogue from all perspectives on the best ways to achieve progress. We remain fully committed to our sustainability goals, including our science-based targets related to climate change.”
  • McDonalds said: “McDonald’s is proud to be on the advisory committee for America Is All In for Climate Change, a board member of the Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance, and an active member of Ceres’ BICEP coalition. We work together with these coalitions to advocate for legislative action on climate, in addition to our individual advocacy directly with lawmakers in Washington, D.C.”
  • Pfizer said: “We disagree with ClimateVoice’s approach to the corporate scorecard. Its ranking is based on a broader legislative process that we believe jeopardizes the future development of treatments and cures for patients’ unmet needs rather than climate policies that will help achieve the U.S. NDC. At Pfizer, we recognize global climate change as one of the defining issues of our time and are committed to science-based climate action. This year, our fourth generation carbon reduction goal was commended as an ambitious target by the SBTi. Our policy position on climate change is consistent with a 1.5 degree pathway, and we support market-based mechanisms, including a price on carbon.”
  • PepsiCo didn’t comment on the legislation but shared links to information about its climate lobbying and its internal climate commitment.

ClimateVoice argues that companies need to do more. “I think they are stuck in a sort of tug-of-war between different business interests,” says Bill Weihl, founder of ClimateVoice and a former sustainability executive at Facebook and Google. “And in the case of the Build Back Better Act, I think most of them generally prefer lower taxes. A few have said they would support higher corporate taxes, but most have not.” Contacts inside companies have told him that finance departments hold more sway, internally, than sustainability departments. That won’t change, he says, without very clear direction from the top of the company.

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While companies like Google haven’t opposed the legislation, they’re part of the Business Roundtable, which is reportedly actively lobbying against it. The Business Roundtable argues that it wants climate action but not the corporate taxes that the bill calls for to pay for it. “All of our members support action on climate change, but Business Roundtable’s position on a reconciliation package will be based on the totality of what’s in the bill,” says Joshua Bolten, president and CEO of Business Roundtable and a former White House Chief of Staff to President George W. Bush. “Congress has unnecessarily tied climate action with $1 trillion in tax increases on job creators, which we strongly oppose, and trillions in non-climate-related spending. There is no policy reason to link strong action to address climate change with unrelated, harmful tax policy.  The proposed tax increases, which would be one of the largest corporate tax increases in history, would make it harder for companies to invest, including in technologies needed to address climate change.”

The net effect, though, is that it’s working against the climate solutions currently on the table. “Corporate America is working to kill progress on climate at a national level,” Weihl says. “Corporate America could actually lead in driving progress if these major companies split from their trade associations, strongly support the bill, and very clearly oppose what their trade associations are doing. It would matter.” Other companies on the list belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, which are also lobbying against the policy.

A few companies have taken some steps in support. Salesforce has gone further than others, voicing support for both the climate and revenue provisions in the bill, and saying that it disagrees with the Chamber of Commerce’s lobbying against the legislation, though it hasn’t spoken out against the Business Roundtable or the National Association of Manufacturers. Microsoft has voiced support for the climate provisions in the bill, but not the revenue provisions.

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This isn’t just a question of optics: What companies say does make a difference, Weihl says. “It is perhaps a sad fact about our political system that companies have a lot of influence on the policymaking process,” he says. “They lobby directly. They make campaign contributions to their PACs. There are massive amounts of money flowing from companies or corporate leaders through super PACs into the campaign process. And there are other ways that they exert influence.”

The nonprofit advocates for employees at the companies on the list to publicly call for clear support at a critical time for climate action, including putting pressure on trade associations. “If these very large pro-climate companies stood up and said to the U.S. Chamber, we want an emergency board meeting, and they made a strong stand internally, I think they might be able to change what the Chamber’s doing,” Weihl says. “Some of them are on the board of the Business Roundtable or the National Association of Manufacturers. And those boards are big, so they don’t have the ability all by themselves to drive a change, but I think they could really force a very clear and fair conversation. And if the organizations won’t move, then I think they should leave.”

About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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