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Policy Voice

How business can help win an historic climate victory

We have a once-in-a-lifetime chance to secure a livable future, and we’re watching (as are employees) to see if the corporate sector speaks up.

Capitol Hill

An American flag on Capitol Hill. Image via Shutterstock/Rarrarorro

Within days, Congress is expected to vote on a historic investment ($369 billion, to be precise) in climate and clean energy. The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 (IRA) represents a huge step forward, moving both the U.S. and the world toward our climate goals. In total, its passage could mean a 40 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 — unprecedented progress that can make or break our progress toward climate goals.

Companies have a big opportunity to be on the right side of climate history by speaking up loud and clear for this bill. The corporate voice is essential to securing this win for climate — and employees will take note of whether their company is vocal or silent. We got to this juncture in part because of clear vocal support from some in the corporate sector. Now is the time for all climate-positive companies to speak up and help get this bill over the finish line. 

What if we fail? The consequences of inaction are steeper than ever, as the goal of holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius drifts slowly out of reach. And while the private sector is tackling major challenges and making remarkable progress on many fronts, it is also clear that bold public policy is a necessary accelerant to drive the rapid economy-wide decarbonization we need. The Inflation Reduction Act is not perfect — but it will dramatically accelerate progress across the U.S. economy, speeding up the emissions-reduction efforts of the private sector and scaling them across the economy. The private sector should find it cheaper, easier and faster to meet its own emissions targets with the IRA policies in place.

We have the know-how and the solutions to address this crisis. We need federal policy to supercharge change, a fresh force that can move the ball further down the field across every sector of the economy — and rapidly. (The climate game is all about speed and scale.) And as this bill encounters the inevitable buzzsaw of opposition, in this time of deeply divided and polarized government, the business voice can cut through the noise and be heard clearly on both sides of the aisle. If we are headed into tougher economic times, policymakers will be even more inclined to listen to job creators.

Business needs to up its game on the climate policy front in these closing moments. During the year-long struggle to enact climate provisions as part of the Build Back Better Act, even "pro-climate" companies offered only cautious support, while allowing their trade associations, including the fossil fuel industry-dominated U.S. Chamber of Commerce, to run roughshod over the legislation. Overall, it wasn’t an inspiring display of corporate leadership, but in this battle we saw promising hints of what true corporate engagement could look like in the future.

Companies have a big opportunity to be on the right side of climate history by speaking up loud and clear for this bill.

Take Salesforce as an example. As the climate battle in D.C. reached its dramatic final months, the company stepped up its leadership and visibility in several ways. CEO Marc Benioff participated in what was essentially a White House pep rally for federal climate legislation back in January. In February, Salesforce signed a New York Times ad organized by Project Drawdown calling on Congress "to act now." In June, Salesforce Vice President Suzanne DiBianca took to CNN in a strong op-ed backing federal investments in clean energy. And just two days after the introduction of the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, Salesforce became the first big Tech firm to support it in an article in Protocol.

Beyond putting their full support behind this particular legislation right now, we need companies to do three things to continue to advance bold climate policy and help us cut emissions in half by 2030:

  • Lobby for clean energy, pro-climate legislation wherever they operate. States and localities are weighing big pro-climate policies such as electrification and mass transit investments. There will also continue to be a massive federal regulatory battle over climate. Companies should be out front on both of these.
  • Leave anti-climate trade associations. Time’s up for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, both of which ferociously attacked the Build Back Better Act. (And both of which announced their opposition to the Inflation Reduction Act less than 24 hours after it was rolled out.) Now is the time for companies that say they care about the climate crisis to walk the walk by finding the exit door from these dysfunctional trade association relationships. There were reports earlier this year that the Business Roundtable is under pressure from tech firms to shift to a more pro-climate stance. If they don’t, it’s time to leave that group too.
  • Keep up a drumbeat of public statements about climate policy. It took years of activists calling for gay marriage to be legalized for that to become law, and in the end it happened in part because companies made themselves heard. It will take years to address climate change at scale, and companies need to use their bully pulpit — CEO blogs and op-eds, press announcements, social media, speeches and television interviews — to keep up the pressure for public policy to address this existential crisis facing their customers and employees.

In the meantime, let’s all join together to make climate history. To quote always-wise Bill McKibben, "zeitgeist matters."

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