Americas, Prosperity, Planet, Climate Change, Peace & Partnership

3 ways business must use political influence to champion climate ambition

Elizabeth Reichart | Apr 16, 2019

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This article was originally published by World Resource Institute and is republished with permission.

Climate leaders lobby for climate action. Flickr/Phil Roeder

Reducing your “carbon footprint” may have qualified your company as a leader on climate change 10 years ago. But today you must do more than that. The definition of leadership has changed—and it increasingly includes responsible, proactive lobbying for climate action that reduces emissions.

More than 500 companies have committed to emissions reductions targets based in science, and more than 150 have committed to powering their operations entirely with renewable energy by 2030. Businesses are disclosing their emissions and evaluating their supply chains for climate risks. But checking even these boxes won’t be enough to be considered a corporate leader on climate in 2019, and it certainly won’t be enough to stop a changing climate’s worst impacts.

new report from EDF highlights how most corporate climate leadership rankings overlook policy advocacy, and argues that this is a huge “blind spot” for any true measure of a company’s contribution to climate change solutions.

They are correct. Companies can and must reduce emissions, but only public policy can elevate these efforts to the scale and pace of emissions reductions needed to mitigate climate change.  The political influence of climate-forward businesses with long histories of successful lobbying on other industry-specific issues can lend climate policies the credibility they need to achieve lasting impact.

For aspiring firms looking to start real impact at the state and national level, here are 3 important starting points for responsible climate policy advocacy. This is your 2019 corporate climate lobbying checklist:

1. Share your “climate story”

Companies have an authentic and credible perspective to share on the long-term threat from climate change to their operations. This perspective is your climate story; crafting an honest, persuasive one is the first step in engaging elected officials. 

Corporate government affairs teams need to know and show how climate connects to the company’s interest areas. Climate change poses real business risks that affect the economy, jobs and the private sector’s ability to provide goods and services. The person who knows the company’s climate story best and the person who relays it to policymakers may not be the same.

Do those who interface with policymakers in your company know what your firm is doing on climate? When sustainability and policy don’t interact internally, the result is that most businesses are not getting the credit they deserve for their science-based targets and emissions reduction measures within the halls of government or having influence.

When companies can share their “climate story” using data points and anecdotes, it gives policymakers the credibility and confidence to then go and advocate for ambitious policy. When elected officials can be informed by business, it gives them the confidence to speak to climate issues with authority.

2. Meet policymakers “where they are”

Most of us want a safe, stable climate, but engaging policymakers while lobbying isn’t a conversation that starts with “I want.” Government Affairs staff know this, but sustainability practitioners helping to draft talking points for interaction with policymakers may not. Recognizing that elected officials represent constituents with certain needs is an important baseline for drawing a Venn diagram between what responsible business wants and what policymakers want. Understand the local context in order to make compelling cases about whatever your issue is, whether that’s procuring renewable energy or buying fleets of electric vehicles. Tailor your advocacy to issues at the core of a district or state’s interests, and you are more likely to generate buy-in from elected officials.

3. Push government to be bolder

When businesses advocate for climate ambition and send governments clear signals of commitment, this enables governments to be bolder in their own commitments. Likewise, when government sends the private sector clear, long-term signals about climate policy, business can act with the confidence it needs to make low-carbon investments. The Ambition Loop, a paper produced by WRI with We Mean Business and the UN Global Compact, highlights instances where business and government have sent one another these clear signals, which created the enabling conditions for more confident climate action.

A few market leaders have begun to harness their influence and engage in thoughtful climate advocacy. Danone North America, Nestle USA, Unilever United States and Mars, Incorporated formed the Sustainable Food Policy Alliance to advocate for public policy in the United States in five key areas, one of which is the environment and climate change. The group focuses on communicating to policymakers their support of policies such as putting a price on carbon and recently released a set of principles advocating for ambitious action on climate.

Time to lobby

Firms on the leading edge must harness their political influence and recognize that climate policy is urgently needed to protect their customers, employees, suppliers and their own business interests. The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate found that bold climate action could deliver at least $26 trillion in economic benefits and generate over 65 million new low-carbon jobs in 2030. One ofthe most compelling narratives a business can tell comes from the private sector harnessing the potential trillions in economic growth to be had when they do well by doing good.

The pressure is on companies to put their lobbying where their climate leadership is, with investors, NGOs, and US consumers increasingly expecting companies to act. Policymakers will need to listen, but companies first must step up with authentic, credible narratives and demonstrate that they are willing to spend their political capital to further climate objectives.

The Renewables Accelerator is a key resource for cities already leading on renewable energy and those kickstarting their clean energy programs. Learn more about renewable energy procurement options for cities and the American Cities Climate Challenge Renewables Accelerator at www.cityrenewables.org

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