If climate action is anti-business, why does business demand climate action?

sky scraper photo
CC BY 2.0 Ciocci

We're in a new era of corporate activism as businesses voice their support for Obama's clean power plan.

When 13 corporate giants pledged $140 billion to fight climate change last week, it was tempting to focus on all that new money flowing to renewable energy.

Perhaps more important, however, was the fact that these 13 influential businesses were giving their backing to the search for a far-reaching international agreement on climate change. In other words, they were willing to not just act, but be climate activists too.

And they are not alone.

Yesterday, when the Obama administration revealed its long-awaited (and stronger than expected!) clean power plan, 365 businesses came out in vocal support. What's interesting about this list of backers is that it wasn't just wind turbine manufacturers or solar power companies looking to make a fast buck off some crony capitalism (sorry deniers, but your Solyndra storyline won't fly here). Instead, it's a broad cross-section of our economy—a cross-section that increasingly sees both risk in inaction, and opportunity in taking on the climate challenge head on.

Signatories include Staples, General Mills, GAP, Adidas, Nestle and many others. And while we environmentalists will no doubt find fault with any one of these corporations on aspects of their current business models, we ought to welcome their rhetorical (and financial) force behind robust climate action. Because it makes the anti-environmentalist push back—usually couched in anti-capitalism theories—that much more ridiculous and untenable.

Take just one example: The fight over renewable energy incentives in North Carolina. Already we've seen Apple, Google and Facebook chide law makers for considering a repeal of the states Renewable Energy Portfolio Standards (REPS). Those tech giants were later joined by Mars, New Belgium, Seventh Generation and VF Corp (note that Mars is also signing up to support the Clean Power Plan above), and most recently software giant SAS Institute Inc also sent a shot across the bows of legislators considering a repeal of REPS.

True, GOP lawmakers may still repeal North Carolina's REPS—but they'll have a hard time making the case that they are doing so for pro-business reasons. (Remember how those "religious freedom" laws worked out for Indiana?) Law makers everywhere will be watching carefully as more and more businesses—big and small—come out in favor of clean energy.

I've also noticed a shift in the tone of debate in the business sphere when it comes to climate. While once, they may have been willing to "agree to disagree", I recently watched as clients of mine—The Redwoods Group—rebuffed climate-denying arguments from a business contact responding to a newsletter. Similarly, Google didn't just quit the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) over climate change—it flat out accused the secretive lobbying group of lying.

Given how much we all stand to lose if climate change continues to run unchecked, it's no surprise that a much broader coalition—including major business leaders—are not just taking action, but calling out those who stand in the way too.

Here's to pushing everyone to do more. And to more people to help us do that pushing.

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