Big Tech's Climate Policy Talk Doesn't Translate Into Lobbying for Action

The companies have set ambitious goals but when it comes to climate policy lobbying, they are less proactive.

Low Angle View Of Building Against Sky
Toshe Ognjanov / EyeEm / Getty Images

The five Big Tech companies—Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, and Google-parent Alphabet—have all set themselves ambitious carbon neutrality and renewable energy goals. But when it comes to lobbying around climate policy, the companies are much less proactive.

An analysis from climate-lobbying think-tank InfluenceMap found that the tech giants had only spent around 6% of their federal lobbying activities between July 2020 and June 2021 on climate policy.

“Arguably some of the most powerful companies based in the U.S., which are these Big 5 tech companies, are not deploying that influence that they have to strategically support climate policy,” InfluenceMap Program Manager Kendra Haven tells Treehugger in an email. 

'Net-Zero' Influence

The InfluenceMap analysis was based on the five companies’ internal reports of their own lobbying activity at the federal and state levels. During 2019 and 2020, the companies’ only devoted around 4% of their lobbying to climate issues, compared to an average of 38% from Big Oil. 

In California, where Apple, Alphabet, and Facebook are all headquartered, they spent a similarly low amount of their lobbying on climate issues, while Chevron, for example, focused 51% of its lobbying on climate-related issues.

Individual leaders like Apple’s Lisa Jackson came out in favor of individual climate policies like Biden’s clean energy standard to remove greenhouse gas emissions from power plants by 2035, and tech companies signed public letters supporting the plan. (This standard was ultimately removed from the version of the Build Back Better Act that passed the House under pressure from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia). However, the same companies are also members of industry groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers that consistently lobby against measures that would enable us to limit global warming to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.5 degrees Celsius) above pre-industrial levels. To bolster this point, The Guardian reported in October that major tech companies including Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft were supporting lobby groups like the Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable that opposed major U.S. climate legislation.

Because of this, InfluenceMap argues that Big Tech could have a “net-zero” impact on climate policy overall.

“These companies are dishing out money to highly active industry associations, so when they say, ‘Oh, we’re having a positive impact because we’ve spoken out here and there in support of these little bits of legislation,’ that is nothing in comparison to the strategy, the extensive, monied strategy, of these industry associations that are right in the halls of Congress,” Haven says.

Why Big Tech? 

But why would Big Tech companies be expected to lobby around climate issues?

For one thing, all of the companies InfluenceMap analyzed have set ambitious climate goals that would be easier if backed by ambitious policy. Amazon has promised to go net-zero by 2040 and to power its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025. Microsoft has pledged to be carbon negative by 2030 and to delete all of its historic emissions by 2050. Apple has promised to be 100% carbon neutral across its supply chain and products by 2030. Facebook says it has reached net-zero for its operations already and will do so for its value chain by 2030. And Google achieved carbon neutrality in 2007 and vows to be entirely carbon-free by 2030.

Amazon, the only company of the five to return a request for comment, disagrees with InfluenceMap’s findings and argues it’s doing enough. 

“Amazon believes both private and public sector leadership is required to tackle the global issue of climate change,” a company spokesperson says in an email to Treehugger. “That’s why we actively advocate for policies that promote clean energy, increase access to renewable electricity, and decarbonize the transportation system. In addition to advocating for these issues on a local, state, and international level, we have a worldwide sustainability team that innovates sustainable solutions for both our business and customers, as well as co-founded The Climate Pledge - a commitment to be net-zero carbon 10 years ahead of the Paris Agreement.”

However, Haven points out this is “an unprecedented moment for climate policy in the U.S.” The Build Back Better Act, which would be the biggest climate investment in U.S. history, passed the House last month and now awaits a vote in the Senate. Haven argues that a strong climate policy would make it easier for tech companies to meet their internal commitments.

“They have a clear interest in a generation mix that’s powered by renewable energy and they have a long-term vision for a world . . . with progressive climate policy. But they’re just not putting their muscle behind that vision,” she says.

Further, InfluenceMap's 2021 A-List of Climate Policy Engagement identifies several non-energy companies that lead on climate lobbying, including Unilever, IKEA, and Nestlé. The reason InfluenceMap thinks the five Big Tech companies should join them is partly because of their massive economic importance. The five companies grew by leap and bounds during the coronavirus pandemic and made up 25%t of the value of the S&P 500 and 20% of its profits during the third quarter of 2020.

“We know that companies that represent massive numbers of jobs and contributions to the economy are the companies that have the most sway when it comes to policy lobbying, because they get to claim that level of impact on the economy when they meet with policy makers,” she says.

View Article Sources
  1. "Big Tech and Climate Policy." InfluenceMap, 2021.

  2. "The A-List of Climate Policy Engagement 2021." InfluenceMap, 2021.