When I led sustainability at Facebook, we were regularly challenged to ask ourselves what we would do if we weren’t afraid. In the wake of an epic battle over historic climate legislation, I feel like asking that same question of Facebook (now Meta), Google (another former employer), Apple and Amazon, all of whom were silent at this critical moment — and let their trade associations attack the bill. Of the five Big Tech companies, only Microsoft endorsed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — very softly, through an intermediary, before the bill passed, and then Google did so after the signing.
What were they afraid of? We’ll get to that in a moment.
For employees of these Big Tech firms, for whom climate change is an existential threat, this continued silence on bold public policy seems disconnected from the companies they think they know, with their constant talk about internal sustainability efforts and reducing emissions, and their increasingly visible presence at the IPCC annual COP meetings. For the past 2½ years, ClimateVoice has been working to lift the voices of these Big Tech employees, and last year — knowing a big policy battle was brewing — we launched an employee-focused campaign to urge the top 5 U.S. tech companies to step up their game on climate policy.
As the Build Back Better Act (with a huge $555 billion investment in climate) slowly wound its way through the congressional labyrinth last year, we urged companies to support it strongly and we scored where they stood. All five Big Tech companies endorsed the climate provisions, albeit weakly, while trade associations savaged the bill with media attacks. When Build Back Better met its demise, though, not all business leaders gave up hope on pushing climate policy forward. Some took a very proactive path, speaking up for the climate provisions that were still in play with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia).
I’ve written before about the example set by another leading tech firm — Salesforce — which loudly spoke up throughout the spring. Salesforce endorsed the IRA days after its introduction in an article focused on the tech sector’s silence on the legislation. It took another week for Microsoft to softly whisper their support for the IRA, as its founder Bill Gates was getting ready to publish a powerful op-ed backing the bill.
The chamber is well known for its obstructionist tactics on climate bills, and this latest policy showdown was no exception.
What is holding Big Tech back on offering full-throttle support for bold climate policy? Protocol zoomed in on the IRA’s tax provisions as one likely concern. A last-minute provision taxing stock buybacks was definitely on Big Tech’s radar. In the bigger picture, though, Protocol’s coverage also unearthed the most important political obstacle: the pernicious role of trade associations. All three powerful trade associations that represent these companies — the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and the Business Roundtable — were quick to come out against the IRA.
These trade associations still represent Big Tech. All of the Big Five — except Apple, which left years ago under the leadership of the late Steve Jobs — still belong to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The chamber is well known for its obstructionist tactics on climate bills, and this latest policy showdown was no exception. In a last-ditch attempt to flip Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, the U.S. and Arizona chambers ran a desperate ad at the eleventh hour. As history will show, they failed. A crack has appeared in the trade associations’ wall of invincibility. It is time to make that crack a fissure and get these powerful companies to stand up forcefully against the obstruction from these umbrella groups.
In the wake of the IRA’s passage, we see how critical this turning point was to our future on this planet. Record-breaking summer heat across the globe, devastating fires and floods, and now news of rapid warming in the Arctic — there is no end to the ominous signs that we must push forward and use policy to scale decarbonization rapidly across our entire economy.
It’s important to keep in mind that the IRA represents a beginning, not an end. Its passage has ushered in an era when bold climate policy — at the federal, state and local levels — will speed and shape our transition to our clean energy future. It would be great to get Big Tech to turn away from their fears — and their destructive trade associations — and join us in this fight. Their employees will be watching to see whether they do so.