Will the new President flunk the climate business test?

The climate business test for TrumpFive years ago I turned in my laptop and brought my business consulting experience to Environmental Defense Fund. Some might see that move as making a break. I saw it as honoring a connection.

Public service may be the noblest calling. But it is also among the hardest. That’s why I believe business leaders have a role in government. Strong business leaders ask questions – and care about the answers. They consult experts who know more than them – and then solve thorny problems that matter to peoples’ lives. They take accountability.

So as a student of business, for much of my life I have casually told friends I would like to see an experienced business person in the Oval Office.

Now we have one.

As Donald Trump takes office, he must draw on the best skills represented in the business world.

Trump and his administration must make an urgent commitment on the economic issue of climate change and clean energy, before a problem worsens, accountability mounts, and the U.S., as the world’s second largest pollution emitter, is seen as a deadbeat on the global stage.

Trump’s handling of climate may well define his legacy, especially for generations of Americans to come.

Yet Mr. Trump has called climate change a hoax, nominated a climate skeptic to head our Environmental Protection Agency, and suggested he may pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement.

We will learn a lot about the administration’s economic prowess by whether it remains lashed to a special interest agenda, or studies up and seizes climate action for the economic opportunity that it is.

The incoming administration should take a page from Gary Garfield – ex-CEO of Tennessee based Bridgestone. In an open letter to the President-Elect, Mr. Garfield observed: “A hasty decision on [leaving the Paris climate agreement], will likely isolate our nation, cede technology, innovation and jobs to China, and limit market access for our exporters.”

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Gary Garfield notes: “A decision to stay the course on climate and institute policies harnessing American ingenuity to create truly efficient clean energy technology — akin to the effort behind the Manhattan Project — will help drive both jobs and our economy for decades to come.” Mr. Garfield should know a business opportunity when he sees one; he grew profits at Bridgestone five-fold in six years.

And he is not alone. From technology to power, and investment to oil and gas, business leaders across sectors have pinpointed the urgency of addressing climate change, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because de-carbonization is one of the great economic opportunities in the 21st century:

  • “With tens of billions of dollars of U.S. renewable energy investment in the works this year alone, and far more globally, the question for American political leadership is whether they want to harness this momentum and potential for economic growth” – Jonas Kron, Trillium Asset Management
  • “We support [California’s] vision for a clean energy future and agree that we need to take action today to meet the challenge.” – Melissa Lavinson, PG&E Corporation
  • “In Statoil, we acknowledge that there is overwhelming evidence for human-induced climate change. Climate change is happening.”
  • “Finding more renewable and low-carbon energy alternatives and reducing energy intensity lowers operating costs and can enhance operational flexibility.” – Walmart

Low Carbon USAAnd there are scores more business leaders who recognize the data on climate change’s seriousness and recognize the responsibility – and the opportunity – their companies have to rise to the challenge. Over 600 business leaders wrote to Trump, Congress, and global leaders, to support continuation of low carbon policies, investment in the low carbon economy, and continued U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement.

There is no question that business leaders have spoken, and will continue to speak up.

Now the question is: Will Donald Trump have the business sense to listen and lead?


Additional reading:

Business won't back down on clean energy future

With a record $1.4 trillion in sustainability assets, investors bail on fossil fuels


Follow Ben Ratner on Twitter, @RatnerBen