Too few companies advocate for climate-friendly policies despite lofty goals: report

Too few companies advocate for climate-friendly policies despite lofty goals: report

Dive Brief:

  • Of the United States’ top 100 companies, only 40% lobby lawmakers at the state and federal level for climate-friendly legislation despite setting lofty sustainability goals, according to a new report.
  • Seventy-six percent of companies have said publicly they believe in climate science and 92% have said they plan to make their operations greener with sustainability and emissions reduction goals, according to a report released Tuesday by sustainability nonprofit Ceres. Meanwhile, 20 of the companies have lobbied against climate-friendly policies in the last five years, according to Ceres, 17 of which had set emissions reduction targets of their own.
  • And of those surveyed, 51% see policies and legislation that look to address climate change as a short-term financial risk, even as 74% say they believe climate change will threaten their assets long-term. Ceres said the short-term concerns show that companies are still too focused on the near-term impacts and not on the “systemic impact of climate change.”

Dive Insight:

Ceres has been at the forefront of pushing businesses and the Biden administration to aggressively fight climate change and set ambitious emissions reduction targets. In April, the nonprofit joined the “We Mean Business” coalition to organize a letter signed by more than 400 businesses and investors that urges a national determined contribution (NDC), to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030. And in July 2020, Ceres released its Blueprint for Responsible Policy Engagement on Climate Change, which urged companies to practice “risk-aware and responsible” science-based climate policy advocacy.

This report marks the first examination of how closely companies have adhered to that blueprint. Corporate America needs to help lead the way on fighting climate change, said Steven Rothstein, managing director of the Ceres Accelerator for Sustainable Capital Markets. But there is still something of a disconnect between what a company’s CEO says and what its policy advocacy looks like in Congress and in state and local governments, he said.

“For us as a society, and for these companies individually, to reach net zero goals, we have to be working in unison,” Rothstein said. “In this case, if their policy is either silent or even on the opposite side, it will assure that we won’t be successful.”

The last year has brought some significant moves to fight climate change in the corporate world, as shareholders have started to press company leaders for more action. Those efforts have included oil companies Chevron and ExxonMobil, both of which saw shareholders register their displeasure at their efforts up to this point, with the latter bringing in two new corporate directors to push the company further.

But corporate efforts to influence policy in Washington and at the state level still has a way to go, according to the Ceres report. With the federal government reengaged on fighting climate change and Congress debating an infrastructure package that may have climate-related provisions, there could be plenty of opportunities for businesses to influence legislators directly and indirectly through trade associations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other groups.

The recent heatwaves in the Pacific Northwest and other extreme weather events should serve as a wake-up call for companies to do more to influence policy, especially as climate change will impact their operations and profitability, said Rothstein.

“This is not a theoretical conversation,” he said. “If you’re a company, do you have a supply chain out there? Do you have a subsidiary? Do you have employees out there? What about the hurricane? We’ve run out of time to waste. This is affecting us today. Companies have to be active, and we hope they speak out.”

Rothstein said he is optimistic for the future, especially as corporations continue to wake up to the impacts of climate change and how they can help curb it. But, he said, time is of the essence.

“Climate is one of those areas that if you win slowly, you’ve lost,” Rothstein said. “We’re moving in the right direction, but not fast enough. There is a long list of companies that have made commitments, or investors that have made commitments. But it’s not enough. It’s not fast enough. What we need is more bold action, and more companies to ensure that their climate policy work is aligned with their management strategy.”

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