Major U.S. Companies Urge Congressional Action on Climate Change

Thirty-three of the country's largest companies have signed a Climate Declaration urging Congress to act on climate change.

Nearly three dozen major U.S. companies have signed a "Climate Declaration" urging federal policymakers to use the upcoming budget negotiation to take action to address climate change. Spearheaded by Ceres, a nonprofit that advocates for sustainability leadership, the declaration asserts that "a bold response to the climate challenge is one of the greatest American economic opportunities of the 21st century."

Among the signatories of the declaration are several of the country's most prominent brands, including Ben & Jerry's, Intel, Levi Strauss & Co., Nestlé, New Belgium Brewing, Nike, the North Face and Starbucks. Ceres will continue to encourage other leading business, as well as individuals, to sign the declaration.

"The signers of the Climate Declaration have a clear message for Washington: Act on climate change. We are, and it's good for our businesses," said Anne Kelly, director of Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, an advocacy project of Ceres more commonly known by its acronym BICEP. "The cost of inaction is too high. Policymakers should see climate change policy for what it is: an economic opportunity."

Together, the signatories provide nearly half a million U.S. jobs and take in combined annual revenue of approximately $450 billion. The companies have signed the declaration because they say that climate change — and the extreme and unpredictable weather that come with it — has been bad for business.

"From droughts that affect cotton crops to Hurricane Sandy, which caused extensive damage to our operations, climate affects all aspects of our business," said Eileen Fisher, CEO of the eponymous New York-based apparel firm, which suffered severe damage and business interruption during the 2012 storm that wreaked havoc across the Eastern seaboard.

"As a socially and environmentally responsible company, we are trying to affect positive change, but business can't do it alone," added Fisher. "We need the support of strong climate legislation."

The Climate Declaration makes rather general demands, calling for Congress to adopt legislation that will promote clean energy, boost efficiency and limit carbon emissions.

"One of the most important things Congress can do to grow our economy and protect our planet is to pass smart climate change legislation this year," said Anna Walker, director of government affairs and public policy at Levi Strauss & Co. The jeans company makes 95 percent of its products from cotton, a commodity that faces a serious threat from climate change.

Among the legislative options on the table, the one that has received that lion's share of support from climate experts is the carbon tax introduced in February by senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA). The bill would set a progressively increasing tax on carbon emissions to function as a market correction for the negative externalities created by the burning of fossil fuels.

Executives say extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy, which devastated the Eastern seaboard in late 2012, have been bad for business.

"Economists have long understood that the key to smart environmental policy is aligning private incentives with true social costs and benefits," said Greg Makiw, economic advisor to President George W. Bush and former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, in an interview with Deseret News. "That means putting a price on carbon emissions, so households and firms will have good reason to reduce their use of fossil fuels and to develop alternative energy sources."

Sixty percent of the revenue from the tax would be returned to consumers as a dividend, with the other money generated from the tax being used to invest in clean, energy-efficient technologies.

While the Climate Declaration does not advocate for any specific legislation, it does highlight widespread support for a progressive climate policy among the highest echelons of corporate America, a group historically perceived as an obstacle to passing environmental legislation.

"When a majority of the world's largest companies are investing in clean energy, you can truly see its value," said Mindy Lubber, president of Ceres, which has studied the changing corporate attitude towards climate change. "We encourage lawmakers to support policies that help companies meet and strengthen their clean energy goals."

The Climate Declaration is available online at BICEP's website.