Policy Matters

3 post-Paris policy campaigns business should support

Wikimedia Commons
We won't always have Paris, so companies need to take a stand together for sustainability. 

"We’ll always have Paris," at least as a sensible, survival-oriented ideal. But until respect for science returns to the U.S. Capitol, sustainable business leaders must provide much-needed leadership on how we manage our environment. As the U.S. is the second-biggest contributor to climate change, our robust, innovative business community can be of significant help in holding the line, both in corporate practices and policy campaigns. Successful leaders didn’t get where they are by folding in the face of opposition, and this is one challenge we can’t afford to lose.

1. We’re still in

American companies by the thousands expressed their dismay at President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord. Significantly, a number of giant firms in the energy sector, including ExxonMobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and ConocoPhillips, had asked him to keep the U.S. in the accord, and after the decision, stated their intent to continue with their existing research and development into alternative and sustainable fuel production.

Natural gas giant ConEd did as well. Whether this is to protect sunk R&D costs in what should have been inevitable progress, a genuine awareness of what unchecked climate change will do to every bottom line, or the well-founded worry that states will redouble their demand for alternatives is not clear. The most encouraging reason may be that Exxon’s and other corporations’ stockholders insisted they stay the course and keep ahead of the ongoing market transition away from carbon-based fuels.

What’s at stake: Business abhors instability because it hampers planning and climate change, with its increasing disruptions and costly damage, has made instability far too frequent in an otherwise socially stable, affluent country. And with China, India and European countries in the accord along with most others, the U.S. economy is likely to be harmed competitively on the international front. The global transition away from coal and other fossil fuels is happening rapidly, with or without us. The U.S. lagging behind, rather than leading, in innovation and efficiency may well cost us the leadership role we have earned at great cost over the past century. What other risks and costs we will then bear may be formidable.

What you can do: American business leaders can send a powerful message to others in our sphere of influence, here and around the globe. Please sign the letter to endorse the "We Are Still In" campaign, supported by businesses, universities and cities across the U.S.

2. Chemicals of concern  

Businesses in most industries can exploit opportunities in emerging markets by reformulating their products and catalyzing change in their supply chains. Sustainable, consumer-driven innovations in foods, personal care and cosmetic products have been well received — and that’s just the start. These opportunities abound in furnishings and installed building products such as carpeting, fixtures, cabinetry and more that are used in homes, restaurants, hotels, offices and other interiors.

The What’s It Made Of? initiative was launched this spring to focus attention on the health hazards of some conventional materials and processes, and also on the healthier options being specified by aware designers, architects and contractors. 

What’s at stake: The chemicals of concern most common in furnishings products present well-known problems:

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) including formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, are used in adhesives, finishes, paint, coatings, and many other products.
  • Flame-retardant chemicals have been associated with endocrine disruption and reproductive, neurologic and immune system impairment as well as cancer.
  • Highly fluorinated chemicals have been associated with kidney and testicular cancer, thyroid disruption, elevated total cholesterol and obesity.

The production and combustion of PVC emit dioxins, potent carcinogens linked to impairment of the immune system, the developing nervous system, the endocrine system and reproductive functions. When it is made pliable with phthalates, these dangers are increased.

Antimicrobials persistent in the environment are associated with adverse endocrine, thyroid and reproductive changes and their use can lead to resistant strains of bacteria.

What you can do: Sign the pledge to ask what is contained in products when you are procuring or shopping for furnishings and materials. The pledge states:

As a business leader I am concerned about the health of our world — my employees, customers, communities, and the global environment. I am committed to reducing the use of chemicals that pose harm to human health and the environment. As a first step, I commit to ask my suppliers about the presence of chemicals of concern like flame retardants, fluorinated stain treatments, antimicrobials, vinyl and VOC's including formaldehyde, that may be present in the products that we produce/specify/purchase.

3. Functional water infrastructure

U.S. municipal water systems are essential for reliable, plentiful clean drinking water and sanitary waste disposal. American businesses rely on municipal water systems for food production, manufacturing, energy production and much more. Even companies that do not directly rely on clean water infrastructure to create their products need it to fulfill their day-to-day functions. Faulty infrastructure inflicts disruptions on business operations, including utility service interruptions, polluted drinking water and higher water bills.

This all should be obvious, but most of our water infrastructure is deteriorating badly. In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gave U.S. drinking water infrastructure a "D" grade for overall quality. Nationwide, an estimated 240,000 water main breaks occur every year. To maintain U.S. drinking water service at current levels requires replacing deteriorated pipes and expanding systems to support growing populations. The American Water Works Association stated the cost will be $1 trillion over the next 25 years.

What’s at stake: Business survival, as well as public health, depends on saving America’s water infrastructure now. The ASCE says that the fallout from our water infrastructure’s degradation will result in $147 billion in increased costs to businesses due to higher water rates; 700,000 jobs lost due to the resulting squeeze on company budgets; and $416 billion in lost GDP due to increased costs and the loss of worker productivity — all by 2020.

What you can do: ASBC’s Clean Water is Good for Business campaign gives business a strong voice to advocate for reduced water runoff pollution, improved water infrastructure and policies that make businesses more resilient to floods and droughts.