Insights from Climate Leaders Hour: Business Meets GovernmentWe Mean Business coalition
More than 400 businesses and investors with a footprint in the U.S. called on the Biden-Harris administration last month to set ambitious climate policies. These companies, representing over $4 trillion in annual revenue and employing over 7 million U.S. workers across all 50 states, signed an open letter organized by Ceres and the We Mean Business coalition, indicating their support to at least halve emissions by 2030.
On the eve of the landmark announcement by the U.S. to raise its 2030 emission reduction target – its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) – to 50-52% below 2005 levels, Ceres and We Mean Business convened a handful of these companies for a cross-sector panel conversation with U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. The discussion, moderated by Justin Worland, senior correspondent at TIME Magazine, covered a wide range of topics – from public-private sector collaboration, to business accountability and action, to a just transition.
Ambitious policies accelerate business action on climate
“The science is clear. We need governments to be clear that this moment is about embracing science-based policies, to embrace carbon neutrality. I think businesses’ job of course, is to show what is possible in the business context,” said Lisa Jackson, Vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives at Apple. “We believe that businesses have a huge role to play. And a lot of it is folding in behind governments and behind our international organizations to show what is possible.”
“Having politicians set very ambitious NDCs and follow up with short-term policy […] – by giving certainty to business that this is going to be a sustained and long effort – that also means that the security, the certainty behind investments in substantial transformation of the energy systems becomes very accelerated,” said Mads Nipper, CEO of Ørsted. “And in our case, we have turned around from being one of the most fossil fuel intensive utilities in Europe to now having almost 90% of our energy generated from renewable energy. And that has been made possible in this wonderful interplay between ambitious politicians and a business that is ready and has the courage to act on that,” he added.
“One of the things that government can do very effectively is make investments in infrastructure. And so, we’ve been happy to see in the American jobs plan that focus on, for instance, the rollout of electric vehicle infrastructure. […] That’s the power of government involvement and the investment that can launch new market segments,” said Barbara Humpton, CEO of Siemens USA.
Transparency and accountability on climate action
“We encourage as many as possible to [set science-based targets] because it forces short-term action as well. And we actually believe that it should be mandatory to report on climate risks and initiatives taken. It will make the transparency to investors a lot greater and it will ensure that everybody who is engaging with the company can make informed decisions,” said Nipper.
“Transparency matters and sharing amongst the community the ways we are working to combat threats [matters]. We are in a moment where we need to be incredibly humble. Humility matters because the science is continuing to unfold,” said Humpton.
“We have seen how climate change is impacting the communities in a disproportionate way. We decided to put climate and people together under our strategy called ‘People & Planet’ and you can see where we are every year, where we follow the goals that we have set in an ambitious way. And I take accountability as the president of IKEA US, to make sure that what we commit happens. Because it goes down to the value-driven company we are and why this is important. […] We are showing exactly what the impact of our individual products and our individual clients have on the earth and improving that over time,” added Javier Quiñones, President of IKEA Retail U.S.
“As leaders in our industries, we truly need to lead right, and make bold moves. So just as an example, we produce a low-carbon product, but it’s not demanded by the market. We made the bold decision in many of our markets to stop producing those older products and only produce the low carbon products,” said Jamie Gentoso, Global Head, Solutions & Products at LafargeHolcim. “It’s taking that leadership role to the next level and saying ‘we will not compromise, and we don’t think you should compromise either. And you need to reduce your impact as well.’”
“Businesses need to set aggressive goals. We need to be transparent and honest and audited in our accounting for those goals. We need to support the administration’s policies, where we agree with them, and serve as examples that no one is asking us to do something that is not good for business. It’s actually something that in the medium, and sometimes even in the short term, is extraordinarily good for our country and our country’s competitiveness and for jobs,” said Jackson.
“As business leaders, we need to see ourselves as catalysts for acceleration of the green agenda. The catalyst for change. If we inspire the rest of the world so they feel compelled to follow our example, we will also be accelerating to a much greater change,” said Nipper.
Private-public sector collaboration towards a just transition
“The private sector has been leading – even at moments when obviously the federal government was dragging its feet or non-existent in this conversation. So, thank you for demonstrating that it can still be done, that We Mean Business and [companies] are leading the way. It helps us to make the argument – for the American jobs plan or any other legislation that we want – that we can point to what you are doing and say: ‘The private sector is already there, they see where the market is headed,” said Jennifer Granholm, U.S. secretary of energy. “There is an opportunity here for us to really work together to uplift communities and we want to be helpful.”
“We need the support of government and we need the support of investors to make sure that we are headed down the right path and also that we can be assured that the policies that come into play will be there long-term,” said Gentoso.
“We are thrilled to have a federal government that is pushing in the same direction. It’s like wind in our sails. And so, we want to be part of the fleet that is going to help this green economy grow and these green jobs to grow across the country,” added Jackson.
“We can all take action, within the walls of our own companies, with our own employees to ensure diversity and inclusion and equity. It is really important to ensure that transformation happens in an equitable fashion. […] We need to take responsibility to help transform the capability structure of the workforce into getting new well-paying jobs, to the benefit of our own company, but also to the local community. There is ample opportunity for all companies to take these kinds of action,” said Nipper.
“This is a brilliant moment for industry and government collaboration to envision that future, create a framework, a structure, investments into those areas that will drive us rapidly through that transformation,” said Humpton.