Nick is a Justmeans staff writer for the Climate Change and Energy & Emissions categories, with a background working on climate and energy issues both on the ground and online. Nick is particularly interested in the interplay between the written word and the creation of on-the-ground change, which he examined in-depth in his senior thesis while at Pacific University. Since graduating from col...
Spotlight Still On Koch Industries' Anti-Sustainable Business Activity
For years fossil fuel companies have been able to hand out big sums of money to support or defeat public policies, without fear of major negative consequences. But in an age of increasing ire over the corporate influence in politics, and of growing awareness that curbing pollution actually encourages sustainable business, this may at last be changing. More than ever before, the US public is suspicious of advertising campaigns backed by corporate entities. With the public watching, and with social media providing inexpensive ways to get the word out, corporations can no longer be confident they can sculpt public policy during secret backroom meetings.
Last week I wrote about how the youth movement to defeat California's Proposition 23 has used social media to shine a spotlight on one of the ballot initiative's biggest backers. Cal State Los Angeles senior Joel Francis challenged Charles Koch of Koch Industries, who donated more than a million dollars in support of Prop 23, to a public debate. Since last week, major news outlets from Business Week to the Huffington Post have picked up on the story, and spread the news far and wide that Koch Industries is backing a proposition that would kill sustainable business jobs in California.
Meanwhile Charles Koch has refused to acknowledge the debate challenge, feeding into the image of Koch Industries as a company unconcerned with Prop 23's real impact on California. This week Joel Francis traveled to Koch Industries headquarters in Witchita to follow up on his debate challenge, and Koch continued to play the part of the unreachable corporate kingmaker.
According the Energy Action Coalition and Power Vote California, Francis and a small group of sustainable business activists arrived in Witchita Wednesday to attempt to meet with Charles Koch in person. In a YouTube video chronicling the adventure, Francis explains why he is there. Among other reasons, he explains that "Since 2005, clean energy jobs have grown ten times faster than any other job market in California." The video then shows Francis approaching the building and being turned away by Koch Industries' director of corporate security, who promises only to deliver Francis' request to debate Charles Koch in-person.
Koch Industries was clearly unprepared for an ordinary Californianlet alone a college studentto challenge the company's backing of Prop 23 in such a public manner. Faced with the prospect of Joel Francis coming to Witchita, all Charles Koch could think of to do was to hide in his company's corporate headquarters and send out security guards to turn the professionally dressed and well-spoken student away. In forking over a million dollars to the Yes on 23 campaign, Charles Koch no doubt intended to quietly smooth the way for suspension of California's global warming. Instead, what he's gotten is a PR disaster for his company.
Like other cases in which sustainable business activists have made corporate advertising campaigns backfire, Joel Francis's challenge to Charles Koch and Koch Industries serves as an example that should be heeded by other industry players. It's no longer quite so easy for companies to which fail to serve the public interest, without fear of serious PR repercussions. Maybe instead of bankrolling ant-sustainable business measures like Proposition 23, large companies should embrace the inevitable and get on-board the shift to sustainable business themselves.
Photo credit: It's Getting Hot in Here