Following is a message I sent to Jeffrey Hollender, Chief Inspired Protagonist of Seventh Generation, in response to a recent blog post of his:
It was wonderful to have you with us at our Conference last week.
I read with interest your blog about BSR and the Conference, and I want to share my perspective with you, because you raise some crucial points.
Because I believe this is an important conversation, I plan to share my response publicly, and I will also post some comments on your blog. I also look forward to your reply to my thoughts.
On the whole, I believe that you and I are both advocating many of the same things. I share your perspective about how urgently we need to make progress in combating climate change, which we both know to be advancing more quickly than the IPCC said just two years ago—a point I made in opening our conference last week.
I was concerned to read your post, however, which misreads what BSR is doing.
BSR has been calling on all companies to undertake a comprehensive approach to climate, marrying operational improvements with public policy engagement to redirect the trajectory of our economy.
Indeed, during my opening remarks at the Conference, I made an unequivocal call for business to support an outcome at Copenhagen that creates an international policy framework that moves us to a low-carbon economy. Your post seems to have missed this point.
Regardless of the outcome in Copenhagen (and Yvo de Boer himself is predicting that Copenhagen will not produce desired results), it is essential that business continue to develop effective climate strategies.
To keep business focused on the long road ahead, I have proposed a comprehensive approach that includes policy advocacy—and goes beyond it, with a focus on innovative technologies; greater efficiencies; the leveraging of value chains and other business partnerships; and communications with consumers, employees, and others to push for a lower-impact economy.
Where we seem to disagree is whether BSR should engage in lobbying.
Unlike other business associations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, BSR is explicitly set up not to represent its members. While there is a role for these organizations in promoting change by representing its members, the role BSR plays is equally important.
Our focus is on helping companies reduce their energy use, communicate with their consumers about efficiency, develop innovative technology, and—yes—ensure that their policy efforts are consistent with their sustainability commitments (which very often they are not).
You suggest that BSR should “move beyond education and wade into the political process.” There are two problems with this.
First, you understate the value of education. BSR is active on multiple important fronts to combat climate change. Through research and publications (including an imminent publication on policy approaches to climate change), advice to companies on their strategies, practical support for companies from Wal-Mart to H&M to AT&T on combating climate change, working groups like Clean Cargo, and multi-stakeholder efforts like the World Business Summit on Climate Change, we are actively “educating” companies by supporting practical steps to reduce the impact of their operations. Without efforts like this, even a perfect agreement at Copenhagen will be as ineffective as (regrettably) Kyoto has been.
Second, you overstate the value BSR could bring by lobbying. In my view, business associations such as ours that represent diverse membership tend to take watered-down positions. Achieving a synthesis of the views of 250 member companies coming from all parts of the world would inevitably lead to compromises that would leave everyone unhappy. We don’t see the need for BSR to join an already crowded field of business coalitions—including the Copenhagen Communiqué, USCAP, BICEP, Ethos in Brazil, and the American Sustainable Business Council that you have launched—that are already doing important work lobbying for specific political action on climate change.
Lastly, I want to respond to your comments about creating a “strong economy” versus a “green economy.” Unfortunately, you have misinterpreted my point, which is precisely that we won’t have a strong economy if we don’t embrace sustainability. Indeed, the green economy is no longer just a niche idea. Climate change proves the point—it is not a “green” issue; it is central to our entire economic future.
This is why we will continue to work with our 250 member companies, NGOs, and public policy-makers to build comprehensive solutions that include both effective policy frameworks and new ways of doing business. That is the best way for BSR to make a contribution, and we are fully committed to it.