Old Excuses on Policy Advocacy Don’t Work Anymore

I admire corporate sustainability leaders who, as hockey great Wayne Gretzky once said, know how to “skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

I’m optimistic about our future when I see courageous leaders at companies like Unilever, Pepsi, Mars and others lead the way by looking beyond short-term profits for long-term success and publicly advocating for the smart regulatory and policy changes required to preserve the natural systems that people, communities and companies need to thrive.

Yet, there are too many companies that still rely on old excuses when asked to take a public stand on energy and environmental policy.

To be a bold leader in the 21st century requires a strong voice on the most pressing environmental issues of the day. It’s no longer good enough to put a green label on a product or declare in an annual report that your company is making the world a better place. It’s time to take the next leadership step.

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At Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), we like to call the next step of sustainability leadership the business policy nexus. It simply means that your company has aligned your sustainability goals and strategies with your external engagement on policy.

If your company isn’t operating in the business policy nexus, it’s time to retire the following excuses and go public in support of forward-facing environmental policies:

Excuse #1 “We’re not political.”

Companies can no longer be silent on issues like the environment. Customers expect the brands and companies they love to stand for something and to show leadership on issues that matter to them.

In previous decades, this excuse might have sounded more like, “we want Democrats and Republican to buy our products.” However, this recent working paper by researchers at Duke and Harvard suggests that C.E.O. activism can sway public opinion — and even increase interest in buying a company’s products.

Corporate neutrality on the issues that matter may be outdated. If you don’t believe me, maybe ask Paul Polman of Unilever or Indra Nooyi of Pepsi or Yvon Chouinard of Patagonia. Their corporate voices ring loud and clear when it comes time to stand up for the environment.

Excuse #2 “It’s not part of our core business.”

In a 2015 article the head of government relations for one of the world’s biggest companies told the Guardian: “There’s a reluctance if a regulation doesn’t get into your core competency to get into somebody else’s backyard. It’s an unspoken acknowledgment that you stick to your knitting.”

The earth is everyone’s backyard. And the state of our environment affects every business.

Just take a look at the companies who have backed the Clean Power Plan. “Clean energy” isn’t the core competency of global giants like Amazon, General Mills, Nestle, or Levis, but these companies and many others made their corporate voices heard for the good of business and society.

Excuse #3 “Our government affairs team deals with policy.”

Some corporate leaders have been passing the buck to other departments, other industries and other leaders for too long.

You have a responsibility to inspire everyone in your organization to maximize the triple bottom line: profit, people and planet.

Leaders find it easy to measure profit; measuring social and environmental impact is a little harder. Without good data, no one in a company feels comfortable taking the lead on policy.

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This is where an NGO like EDF can help make a difference. EDF has built a framework for corporate sustainability success that encompasses science, strategy, and systems to create measurable environmental and business benefits. Your organization can use this framework to become a sustainability leader and confidently stand up for smart climate policy that addresses your future business risks.

The old excuses don’t work anymore. So stand up for change and advocate for policies that will help us overcome the most serious environmental challenges we face. The issues are too important; the consequences for little or no action are too serious.

Follow Tom Murray on Twitter: @tpmurray

Further reading:

A strong climate deal makes dollars and sense for American business

VictoriaMills_287x377_1The chorus of business voices calling for climate action has grown steadily in size and strength in the months leading up to the Paris climate talks. Now that COP 21 is finally here, companies have pumped up the volume even more, with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal and a wave of new commitments to the American Business Act on Climate Pledge.

Championing a Low-Carbon USA

In today’s Wall Street Journal, over a hundred U.S. companies placed a full-page advertisement calling for a shift to a low-carbon economy. The ad’s message is simple: failure to act on climate change puts America’s prosperity at risk, but the right action now will create jobs and boost competitiveness.

WSJ-ad

Click for full ad in PDF

Companies as diverse as Colgate-Palmolive, DuPont, eBay, General Mills, Ingersoll-Rand, Microsoft, Owens Corning and Pacific Gas & Electric signed on to the ad, which encourages the U.S. government to:

  1. Seek a strong and fair global climate deal in Paris that provides long-term direction and periodic strengthening to keep global temperature rise below 2°C
  2. Support action to reduce U.S. emissions that achieves or exceeds national commitments and increases ambition in the future
  3. Support investment in a low-carbon economy at home and abroad, giving industry clarity and boosting the confidence of investors

These companies recognize that their efforts alone can’t solve an issue like climate change. Businesses need governments around the world to act as well. By setting ambitious goals and providing regulatory certainty, governments can unleash the power of the marketplace to deliver the necessary reductions in emissions, while also boosting competitiveness and economic growth. Read more

The Clean Power Plan is Out – Time for Business to Focus on the Certainties and Weigh In

Tom Murray, VP Corporate Partnerships, EDFCommuting home from work last week and listening to the radio, I heard the EPA’s Clean Power Plan (CPP) described as a big deal for our company, our nation, and our planet. When so much of the initial news coverage about the CPP was focused on uncertainty, it was terrific to listen to Ralph Izzo, CEO of Public Service Enterprise Group (PSEG) focus on the certainties.  According to Izzo, the science is in on climate change, the CPP creates business opportunities for PSEG and others, and the future for PSEG and utilities in general will be increased reliability, more energy efficiency, and increasing energy from carbon-free sources.

For nearly 25 years, EDF has partnered with leading companies to accelerate environmental innovation in their products, operations, strategies, and supply chains.  In fact, it was EDF’s early partnerships with McDonalds and FedEx that first attracted me to the organization.  While we’ve made considerable progress working with business, there’s still a lot of work to be done to reach the low carbon, clean energy future mentioned above.  To get there, we need more aggressive private sector leadership and strong support for solutions like the CPP.

Business weighing in on Clean Power Plan

 

What’s next with the CPP?  It’s time for business to focus on the certainties and weigh in… Read more