Business Steps Up Leadership on Climate Action as U.S. Administration Withdraws

June 7, 2017
  • Emilie Prattico

    Former Manager, BSR

In the midst of political opposition from the Trump administration, which announced its withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change on June 1, a cohesive and powerful voice has emerged: Business favors climate ambition for a shift to a low-carbon economy.

While consensus on climate action has long been elusive, companies from diverse sectors of the economy have stepped up to protect the standards of the Paris Agreement, which they see as a vital pillar for future growth, employment, competitiveness, and innovation.

An Ongoing Trend Grows Bigger

In the months leading up to COP21, where the Paris Agreement was written, the private sector mobilized to demonstrate its leadership on climate. Through initiatives such as We Mean Business, the Science-Based Targets initiative, or the UN’s Nazca platform, companies have showcased their ambition and commitment to contributing to the decarbonizaton of the economy, and they have voiced their demand for strong and stable regulation on emissions reductions.

Since then, the momentum has grown, even as real threats to American leadership have risen from the executive branch. Indeed, the past few months have seen support from the highest levels of business:

  • Full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, and New York Post organized by C2ES supporting the agreement, with signatures from Adobe, Apple, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, Danfoss, Dignity Health, Facebook, Gap, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ingersoll Rand, Intel, Johnson Controls, Levi Strauss & Co., Mars, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, National Grid, PG&E, Royal DSM, Salesforce, Schneider Electric, Tiffany & Co., Unilever, and VF Corporation.
  • An ad in the Wall Street Journal urging the president to stay in the Paris Agreement, signed by the 30 CEOs: 3M, Allianz SE, Bank of America, BROAD Group, Campbell Soup Company, Cargill, Citigroup, Coca-Cola Company, Corning, Cummins, Dana Incorporated, Dow, DuPont, GE, Goldman Sachs, Harris Corporation, Johnson and Johnson, JP Morgan Chase, Kering, Morgan Stanley, Newell Brands, PG&E, Proctor and Gamble, Royal DSM, Salesforce, Solvay, Tesla, Unilever, Virgin Group, and Walt Disney Company.
  • More than 1,000 companies signed the “Business Backs a Low-Carbon USA” letter, which supports U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement, including DuPont, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Hilton, HP, Intel, Johnson & Johnson, NRG Energy, PG&E, Schneider Electric, The Hartford, and Unilever.
  • CEOs and spokespersons from companies such as ConocoPhillips, BPCheniere Energy, Cloud Peak Energy, Exxon, GE, Peabody and Arch Coal, and Shell have all expressed strong support for remaining in the Paris Agreement.

These public announcements have presented the business case for climate action and have demonstrated the need for strong and stable policies in order to meet investor, consumer, employee, and business demands. Privately, many more executives and senior leaders have contacted the Trump administration, emphasizing that a low-carbon economy is the backbone of American prosperity.

Business Is Drawing the Line

Within minutes of the White House Paris statement, business leaders expressed their opposition using the president’s favorite medium. Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein dedicated his very first tweet to the issue: “Today's decision is a setback for the environment and for the U.S. leadership position in the world.” Tesla CEO Elon Musk and Walt Disney Company CEO Robert Iger used the social media platform to announce they would step down from the President’s Business Council.

GE CEO Jeff Immelt tweeted that climate was now in the hands of business and ruled out the current government as a partner. Google CEO Sundhar Pichar renewed the company’s commitment to working toward a more prosperous and cleaner future, as did Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff. Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith and Apple CEO Tim Cook also strengthened their resolve to contribute to the fight against climate change. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced his discontent on the platform. On his company’s platform, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a public statement in favor of continuing to act in favor of climate in a way that makes business sense.  

Amazon, Dell, and Intel weighed in via Buzzfeed, insisting that not only is there is no contradiction between a low-carbon economy and a prosperous America, the opposite is true. HP issued a press release, saying the longevity of its business was at stake. IBM did the same.

The business voice is not only shaped by global tech companies: Ford and General Motors were also quick to respond to the president’s decision, stating that their commitments to emissions reductions would not change.

And just days after the withdrawal announcement from the White House, more than 900 businesses and investors have joined hundreds of cities, states, and universities in signing the We Are Still In statement to declare their continued support for climate action to meet the Paris Agreement, using the hashtag #WeAreStillIn.

How Business Leads

Leaders of some of the world’s most successful companies clearly see that remaining in the Paris Agreement and maintaining policies that favor emissions reductions is good for their bottom line as well as for the country. Companies have already seen significant cost savings, better supply chain management, and they have spurred innovation and employment by tackling climate change while responding to investor and consumer demands.

Business is leading opposing the federal government and marching on with its own climate commitments, which are consistent with business imperatives. And business can count on the support of local and global politics. Even though the United States withdrew from the Paris Agreement at the national level, 30 mayors, three governors, and 80 university presidents in U.S. cities and states have shored up climate action in line with the requirements of the international accord. And globally the 195 parties to the Paris Agreement remain staunch in their determination to make good on their goals. While the White House’s withdrawal from Paris is a major mistake, it has also served to underscore the broad and deep support for climate action in the United States. In our judgment, this will prove to be longer-lasting than the foolish, regressive approach taken by the president.

In this context, business can be assured that its ambition will be met and enabled at both the local and global levels—and we can be assured that the world’s business leaders will work to keep the global temperature rise under 2°C.

Let’s talk about how BSR can help you to transform your business and achieve your sustainability goals.

Contact Us

You Might Also Like
The Elephant in the Sustainability Room thumbnail image
Why 2024 Could Be a Pivotal Year for Sustainability in the UK thumbnail image
The Sustainability Leader Checklist for 2024 thumbnail image
CEO Outlook: Seven Pivotal Questions Shaping Sustainable Business in 2024 thumbnail image
Three Business Initiatives That Advance Climate Justice  thumbnail image