It’s time for companies to walk the talk on climate lobbying.

Who’s responsible for solving climate change? According to the Yale Program on Climate Communication, businesses top the list. 

Over 70% of registered voters across party lines say corporations and industry should do more to address global warming, above citizens and the U.S. Congress. Young peoples’ expectations of businesses are especially high: a study of Gen Z found that environment is the top issue that younger Americans want companies to address. 

But here’s the critical caveat — young people don’t just want lip service on the issues they care about. They want action. More than 90% said that if a company makes a commitment it should have programs and policies in place to back it up. And 75% will do their own research to see if a company is walking the talk.

Victoria Mills, Managing Director, EDF+Business

Given the high expectations of businesses to address climate change — and increasing scrutiny of corporate behavior from environmental groupsinvestors and employees — how can you tell which businesses are rising to the challenge? 

Look to lobbying

In his excellent piece in Bloomberg Green, How to Tell If Companies Are Truly Fighting Climate Change, Eric Roston poses six questions: “Are climate goals based on science? … Will the company reach net-zero emissions by 2050? … Are life-cycle emissions included? … How much do they rely on offsets? Are companies investing in climate-safe technology? … and, Are companies lobbying for meaningful climate policy?” 

That last question about lobbying is essential. Think of it this way: if a company reaches net-zero emissions by 2050, good for them. But unless everyone else gets there too, we’re all sunk. That’s why in addition to slashing their own emissions, companies must do everything in their power to enact policies that will achieve net-zero emissions across the entire economy. 

Roston also references the many lists that score companies on sustainability performance. As I wrote recently, the vast majority of these lists fail to factor in climate policy advocacy, a major Blind Spot that undermines their credibility. 

For example, 3BL Media’s 100 Best Corporate Citizens List ranks General Motors 8th overall, despite the company’s attack on the National Clean Car Standards. By contrast, Ford, which supports the Clean Car standards and just announced a carbon neutral commitment, ranks only 41st. Similarly, Corporate Knights includes Toyota — another opponent of the standards — on its list of “the world’s most sustainable companies.” Rolling back the Clean Car Standards isn’t just bad for the climate; it will also increase air pollution, making Americans sicker and ultimately causing thousands of premature deaths. 

It’s long past time for sustainability rankings to update their methodologies to include climate policy advocacy. 

Investigate industry groups 

Some companies say the right things on climate while allowing their trade associations — which have far greater political clout — to lobby against policies that cut climate pollution. 

Regrettably, even in a pandemic, some industry groups including the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Public Policy Institute and the Competitive Enterprise Institute have lobbied for relaxation of environmental rules at a time when protecting air quality is literally a matter of life and death.

In another egregious example, the US Chamber of Commerce applauded the Department of Labor’s recent proposal  making it harder for employers to offer environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds in their retirement plans. Restricting access to ESG funds penalizes companies that are improving their sustainability performance. 

In a world where stakeholder capitalism is both an expectation and urgent need, the Chamber’s position is outdated and untenable. It’s also baffling, given the growing relevance of ESG performance to both investors and companies. 

Probe the policy agenda 

We’re in the race of our lives to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050, the target science tells us we must meet to limit the worst impacts of climate change. 

To get there, businesses need to set a net-zero emissions goal and a net-zero climate policy agenda to match. 

The AAA Framework for Climate Policy Leadership, endorsed by leading environmental groups, sets the standard by which to evaluate corporate climate lobbying. The Framework calls on companies to ADVOCATE for policies that achieve net-zero emissions by 2050; ALIGN trade association lobbying with the same goal, and ALLOCATE advocacy spending to advance climate policy, not obstruct it. 

It’s time for companies to use every tool in their toolbox to address the climate crisis, especially their political influence.