Monday, September 17, 2018

Sustainability Leaders' Spartacus Moment

Pundits warn that corporate leaders undermine their brand reputations by commenting on the conduct of Donald Trump. Despite these warnings some of the world's most successful corporations are opposing the commander and chief and rebuffing the leadership in Washington.

With the nation teetering on the cusp of a constitutional crisis, CEOs have a vested interest in countering the malfeasance in Washington. This is not just a PR stunt, nor is this solely a matter of conscience. Some are motivated by genuine concern about the well-being of the republic.

Waves of resignations from the CEOs of America's leading corporations forced Trump to disband his business councils. Business leaders have opposed Trump on a wide range of issues ranging from climate change to racism. Many do not share the administration's extreme and often irrational views on a number of key policy fronts including energy, efficiency and trade.

Corporations like Ford, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola,have all issued statements and internal memos condemning the commander-and-chief. Danielle Fugere, the president of As You Sow, was quoted by the New York Times as saying, "In many cases, I think businesses disagree with the administration."


As explained in a GMO article, "Business leaders cannot afford to be myopic, they must look beyond spurious political cycles to the trends that will endure." Sustainability is such an enduring trend and it is a bulwark against both corruption and the rising tide of populist authoritarianism that is sweeping the world. It may also be the best way to constructively counter Trump.

Trump's incessant lies and petty preoccupations add to the constellation of facts that expose the nightmare that is this presidency. Companies are pushing back by unleashing a wave of goodness.

Key parts of corporate America have uncharacteristically waded into a wide range of important issues including everything from gun safety to climate change. They have rejected Trump's climate denial and advocated for sustainability.


Corporate America has yet to come to the realization that they can either speak out or be complicit through their silence. Either way there are risks.

According to a recent Morning Consult poll mentioning Trump is a double edged sword. While more consumers reported liking brands to say negative things about this president, the results suggest that comments either way will alienate some people. This led the pollsters to conclude that brands should not mention Trump at all.

However, leadership sometimes demands that we look beyond the prevailing wisdom. A poll is a snapshot of a moment in time, it says nothing about the future. We should consider how being silent will be perceived once Mueller releases his report. Playing it safe by staying silent may look enticing now but it may prove to be a failed strategy down the road.

Consumers value a company with abiding values. A poll by Weber Shandwick found that almost 76 percent of consumers want a brand to speak out when their values are either violated or threatened.

There are also other factors business leaders must consider. You cannot discount the value of standing against a regime that is undermining the country, nor should we belittle the advantage of being on the right side of history.

Those who stand up to the president and support the values imbued in the Constitution may find themselves on the receiving end of a windfall of reputational benefit. Those who don't should not expect to be treated kindly by consumers.

Trump is far more than just an impediment to sustainability, the instability his administration augurs represents a serious risk factor that must be countered.


We have seen a tremendous upsurge in the number of corporations that are engaged in climate action. Many of these same companies have CEOs that are openly challenging Trump. There are compelling reasons why corporate American is embracing science-based climate action and resisting the false narratives coming from the White House.

Intel spokeswoman, Katie Lewallen, said "Regardless of regulatory changes, we intend to continue our commitment to environmental stewardship, including working to fulfill the climate change pledge we made in 2015."

Chief executives want Trump to harmonize his policies with economic reality. Four such individuals are well known Trump advisers: General Electric's Jeffrey R. Immelt, Tesla's Elon Musk, BlackRock's Laurence D. Fink and Campbell’s Denise Morrison.

Immelt was quoted as saying, "We believe climate change is real and the science is well accepted" and Fink has pledged to press companies to address the effects of climate change on their businesses. Walmart said its environmental commitments were "embedded in our business" and PepsiCo said the company believes that, "combating climate change is critical to the future of our company, customers, consumers and our world."

This is not new and dates back to this administration's first days in office. Many corporations warned Trump to stick with the Paris Climate agreement and they rebuked him when he withdrew.

Bob Iger, CEO of Disney and Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and SpaceX spoke out against Trump's egress from the deal. Nike and Google were also among the companies that criticized Trump's decision. More than two dozen major businesses took out full-page ads opposing the move.

Puerto Rico

Trump has contributed to climate change induced extreme weather through his dysfunctional policies. He has also shown his callous disregard for the people in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Irma and Maria.

While Trump handed out paper towels after the island was ravaged by hurricanes many companies including Duracell, Sonnen, SunRun and Vivint Solar stepped in to provide the humanitarian relief and electricity. Tesla went to work installing sun powered energy systems to hospitals in the territory and San Juan airport. Musk not only supplied free batteries he personally donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to support relief efforts. He even postponed the reveal of Tesla's electric semi truck to focus on assisting Puerto Rico.

Trump's anemic efforts to provide humanitarian assistance and restore power to the island were a dismal failure. He engaged an untested and inexperienced company by the name of Whitefish in an ultimately doomed bid to bring energy to the territory. Many Puerto Ricans had to wait more than 6 months to get their power back.

Trump's efforts to provide basic necessities like food, water and shelter were a failure that cost thousands of lives. In the face of the facts Trump claimed that his administration did a good job in the territory. He added insult to injury when he tried to discredit the veracity of the almost 3,000 Puerto Ricans who lost their lives due to the hurricane. This is Trump's modus operandi, we have seen it with climate change and countless other issues, whenever he encounters facts he does not like he disparages the truth tellers and he lies.


CEOs condemned Trump for calling the Nazis marching in Charlottesville "fine people".

"There is no room for equivocation here: the evil on display by these perpetrators of hate should be condemned and has no place in a country that draws its strength from our diversity and humanity," said Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase & Co. CEO.

Dimon was among those who said Trump's councils should be disbanded. As did the CEOs of Campbell Soup Company, 3M, Under Armour, Intel, Merck and Disney.

Nike recently hired Colin Kapernick as a direct rebuke of Trump's mischaracterization and thinly veiled racist rants against black athletes.

A number of CEOs stood up to speak out against Trump's travel ban and disdain for immigration. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook publicly condemned the ban. Cards Against Humanity launched projects dedicated to challenging Trump including a campaign to buy a part of the land at the US/ Mexico to protest the border wall.


Companies were quick to come forward and oppose the federal government's land grab. Led by Patagonia, companies like REI and North Face have all resisted the Trump administration when they announced that they were taking large parts of the Bears Ears national monument. Patagonia launched a campaign with the tag line, "The President Stole Your Land". They have also launched legal challenges with the aim of defending these lands from mining, logging and oil extraction.


Trump and Republican legislators are protecting the NRA to pander to their base and secure blood-money. However, student led movements are exposing the profound moral failings of the GOP's support for the NRA. This has emboldened some American corporations to stand up and oppose the NRA. This is something that would have been unthinkable a few years ago.

The corporate response to the NRA is part of a wider trend. Companies are increasingly using their power to take a stand against blatant injustices. Despite their historical reticence to participate in contentious debates corporations across America and around the world are increasingly feeling compelled to support social and environmental justice .

The corporate world is also opposing Trump for practical reasons. Unlike the commander-and-chief many of these leaders can read trends and anticipate opportunities. Many understand that the government in Washington is moving the nation backwards. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to stand up and be counted. Throughout history there have been moments that call for integrity and vision, this is one of them. The fact that Trump has taken up residence on the wrong side of history gives corporate sustainability leaders little choice. There is too much at stake to remain silent.

Why Corporate Sustainability Leaders Must Resist Trump
Corporations Offering Hope this Unhappy Thanksgiving
Corporate Actions that Combat Trump's Climate Ignorance
Sustainability is Not Impervious to Trump
Sharing Sustainability Matters Now More than Ever
Which Side is Your Business On?
Businesses Support Sustainability and Oppose Trump
Business Leaders Advocate for Sustainability and Refute Trump
Corporate America Rejects Trump's Climate Ignorance

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