Leaders from the business community made one thing clear when they came together on Wednesday to announce a 100-day corporate campaign in support of climate change policy: This is not a right or left issue. It is not about appealing to a base of liberals or conservatives. According to signers of the campaign, it is about tackling one of the greatest economic challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
"The longer we wait, the higher the risks will be to our business, to our consumers and to society as a whole," said Betsy Blaisdell, Senior Manager of Environmental Stewardship at Timberland. "We're motivated to see progress made on the issue of climate change, and it will take everyone to get it done."
Timberland is just one of more than 30 companies that have signed on to the Climate Declaration; an effort spearheaded by Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, or BICEP, which, in turn, is quarterbacked by Ceres, a Boston-based coalition of investors and public interest groups.
When asked "Why now?" BICEP director, Anne Kelly, responded, "The president has made it clear that climate change is on his second-term agenda, and, honestly, we think it's important for Members of Congress to recognize that business leaders are wholly supportive of comprehensive climate policy."
The U.S. has long been seen as slow to act when it comes to embracing climate change legislation. In 1997, President Bill Clinton signed the Kyoto Protocol, a global commitment to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but the Senate refused to ratify it, citing potential damage to the U.S. economy. Now, in somewhat ironic fashion, it is major economic contributors like Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss & Co., Intel, and eBay that are rallying Congress to enact legislation.
Of particular note about the Climate Declaration itself, however, is the absence of hot button issues like the Keystone XL Pipeline, carbon taxes and hydro-fracking that congressional leaders may find repellent. Wood Turner, Vice President of Sustainability Innovation at Stonyfield Farm and one of the key drivers behind the Declaration, attributes this to not wanting to detract from the message by incorporating prescriptive elements into the text. "We realize the path toward climate policy will not one without compromise," says Turner, "but we must first all come to the table with the understanding that it is simply the right thing to do."
While addressing climate change may indeed be seen as a moral obligation, signers of the initiative are quick to point out the direct economic consequences associated with extreme weather.
"As a global company, L'Oreal has a vested interest in the markets we serve," says Pam Alabaster, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications, Sustainable Development and Public Affairs for L'Oreal. "We're seeing impacts on our business in North America as a result of climate change, and we'd like to see policy that adequately addresses the issue."
To be sure, L'Oreal isn't the only global company that is pressing U.S. policymakers to push the issue back onto the national agenda. Of the corporations that are currently signed on to the Climate Declaration, at least six are headquartered outside the United States, including Adidas, IKEA, Unilever, Nestlé, Swiss Re, and L'Oreal.
But, when asked to crystallize why companies would make an overtly public appeal for domestic climate policy, it was someone representing a U.S. company (albeit one that is owned by Unilever) who said it best. Quoting Ben Cohen, co-founder of Ben & Jerry's, the company's activism manager, Chris Miller, put the world in the context of ice cream by saying, "If it melts, it's ruined."
Mike Bellamente is the director of Climate Counts, a national nonprofit aimed at bringing consumers and corporations together to address climate change. In February 2012, Bellamente was named to Ethisphere's list of 100 most influential people in business ethics.