Monday, November 13, 2017

Corporate Actions that Combat Trump's Climate Ignorance

Corporations are opposing the Trump administration and embracing both science and sustainability. Corporations are increasingly adopting science-based emissions reduction targets and increasing their renewable energy investments. Many of these companies also support President Obama's Clean Power Plan which the Trump administration is in the process of dismantling. As part of their efforts to dismantle regulations Trump and the GOP are at war with science.

The position of the current US government is in stark contrast to business leaders who acknowledge that climate change represents a serious material threat. This includes vulnerabilities to resource scarcity and supply chain disruptions. Corporations also have to contend with reputational threats from consumers who may punish laggards.


Partisan political interests like to suggest that the Obama administration killed dirty energy (ie coal). However, the fact is that market forces have driven the transition from coal to gas and now those same forces are pushing the corporate world in the direction of renewable energy. Corporations cannot afford to ignore the global decarbonization effort. This is why many are embracing both sustainability and renewable energy.

Corporations are actively opposing the Trump administration because they know that sticking your head in the sand is counterproductive. Leaders in the business community are adopting a wide range of climate actions. Around 50 percent of Fortune 500 companies are becoming more efficient as well as tracking and reducing their carbon emissions. This is to address bottom line efficiency issues as well as in response to demands from shareholders and consumers. Many of these companies are pressuring governments to embrace science and accept the veracity of anthropogenic climate change. 

Very early in the life of the Trump administration corporations joined citizens in resisting this government. Corporations began by opposing Trump's environment and energy agenda. Business leaders then showed their support for sustainability while they rejected the Trump administration's climate denial. These criticisms were so widespread that it forced Trump to disband his business councils.

Today's business leaders do more than just act to reduce emissions internally they have become sustainability advocates. Many companies strongly urged this administration to stay in the Paris Climate Accord and they vociferously condemned Trump when he withdrew.  The US is now the only country in the world that has not signed on to the Paris Agreement.

We are seeing sustainability leadership from hundreds of companies this includes corporate giants like HSBC, Mars and GlaxoSmithKlein. Businesses are tackling a wide range of issues including transparency and water stewardship.

In the face of the Trump administration's climate ignorance hundreds of companies have adopted their own carbon rules.  A total of 365 businesses, Some of the biggest brands in the US are on board. They are engaged in serious efforts to mitigate carbon emissions. This includes ArcelorMittal, DuPont, General Mills, Hewlett Packard, Kellogg, Loreal, and Nike. Even the oil industry giants like BP, ExxonMobil, Royal Dutch Shell and StatOil support carbon pricing schemes to reduce emisisons.

Through their involvement with Science Based Targets initiative corporations are setting meaningful climate goals. There are currently more than 155 companies that are part of the initiative and these actions have gleaned tangible benefits. Many of these companies have pledged to work towards emission reductions that far exceed the minimum required.

The sustainability non-profit CERES has a roadmap for corporate sustainability and it hosts a Company Network of responsible organizations that are committed to achieving sustainability goals and improving resiliency in their operations and supply chains. More than 50 companies including dozens of Fortune 500 firms are part of the network. Previously CERES helped to organized a letter in support of the Clean Power Plan and signed by 350 investors and businesses including NestlĂ©, Unilever, Staples, General Mills, and Adidas. This letter was sent to 29 US governors and it highlights the growing consensus among companies both large and small in support of clean energy. 

American Tech giants are also showing leadership by pledging to get all of their power from renewables. This includes Apple, Amazon, Google, Intel and Microsoft.  These businesses are part of a renewable energy revolution that is being spearheaded by the RE100 initiative.

The Breakthrough Energy Venture started by Microsoft Founder Bill Gates is providing $1 billion in funding to help steward the clean energy transition over the next two decades. These funds will be used in part to research promising clean energy initiatives. The goal of the venture is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a half-gigaton a year.

Despite the Trump administration we are seeing tangible results from the corporate sector.  Carbon emissions in the United States have fallen by 2.2 percent between 2014 and 2015. US greenhouse gases are almost 10 percent below 2005 levels. At the same time we are also seeing economic growth proving that decoupling is possible.

The fact that the Trump administration eschews its own government research on climate change has made this administration irrelevant at COP23 and to a growing number of corporations.

Corporate leadership gives us reason to be optimistic in 2017 and beyond. In the context of the Trump administration sustainability matters now more than ever. Sustainability is an economic boon not a liability and although Trump will not admit it businesses are thriving with sustainability and risk dying without it.

Sustainability is now a mainstream phenomenon but it is not impervious to Trump. Nonetheless, businesses need to make an existential choice, they must decide whether they are for or against climate action.  It is not overstating the case to say that if they side with the latter they are writing their own obituaries.

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