Corporate Lobbying as an Ally in the Fight Against Climate Change

U.S. Capitol Building at Night

Image caption: Corporate lobbying, sometimes viewed skeptically, is increasingly being considered as a useful tool for advancing science-based climate policies. Image Credit: Kevin Burkett / Openverse.

Script by: Olivia Rounsaville Audio by: Jericho Rajninger Blurb by: Elizabeth Sherstinsky

Editorial Note

The interview for this episode was recorded in June 2021. The basic point of the episode remains relevant, but the mentioned campaign is no longer active. ClimateVoice’s current campaign is Escape the Chamber, which calls on companies to leave the US Chamber of Commerce and to speak up and lead on climate policy at local, state, and federal levels. 

What is Corporate Lobbying for Climate Action?

While lobbying—and corporate lobbying in particular—can often have negative connotations, it can be an effective tool to promote legislation to fight climate change. ClimateVoice takes a unique approach to corporate lobbying by incorporating the entire workforce into the process, as opposed to just the executive team. ClimateVoice aims to get companies to lobby for policies that provide solutions to climate change. To that end, it reaches out to, engages with, and educates a company’s workforce on climate change issues and solutions. ClimateVoice’s founder, Bill Weihl, notes that a 2021 report showed that “Big Tech has diverted about four percent of their lobbying activity at the U.S federal level to climate-related policies. Big Oil has devoted about 38% of theirs.” ClimateVoice works to bridge this gap between Big Tech and Big Oil. 

ClimateVoice isn’t the only organization working towards encouraging corporations to lobby for climate change solutions. In 2006, a group of NGOs formed the U.S Climate Action Partnership to advocate for pro-climate policies. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review, despite the efforts of the Climate Action Partnership, the “Waxman-Markey Cap-and-Trade Climate Bill failed in the U.S. Senate in 2009, and climate policy entered the wilderness for years.” In recent years, however, environmental organizations such as ClimateVoice have advocated for renewed corporate lobbying to help solve climate change. In 2019, as a result of these efforts, several environmental organizations including The Nature Conservatory, World Wildlife Federation, and Environmental Defense Fund took out a full-page ad in The New York Times calling for businesses to work towards policies that are consistent with climate science. 

Challenges 

Corporate lobbying for climate action faces some challenges. First, it is difficult to mobilize workers and management, and get them to agree on an environmental policy to lobby for. In addition, lobbying itself is not always successful. The process can be long and tedious without producing noticeable results for some time. Lastly, powerful and dedicated corporate interests lobby the government to stop climate action. Nonetheless, the presence of corporate voices lobbying for climate science-informed policy remains a viable way to implement climate change solutions at the legislative level.

Who is Bill Weihl?

Bill Weihl is the executive director of ClimateVoice. He started his career as an associate professor of computer science at MIT. In 2006, he transitioned to a career in climate action and led Google’s clean energy work. He then spent six years at Facebook as Director of Sustainability. Now at ClimateVoice, he works to use corporate influence to drive climate legislation. 

Further Reading

Bill Weihl, Blogpost: I Have ALS – So Why is My Voice on Climate Louder than Powerful Companies’?

Corporate Action on Climate Change Has to Include Lobbying, Harvard Business Review

How Corporate Lobbyists Conquered American Democracy, The Atlantic

A Closer Look At How Corporations Influence Congress, NPR

The Challenging Politics of Climate Change, Brookings

Climate Insights 2020: Policies and Politics, Resources for the Future

Glossary: Policy cycle | Monitoring Guide, Right to Education

About Us, ClimateVoice


Transcript

Ethan: I’m Ethan Elkind, and you’re listening to Climate Break. Climate solutions in a hurry. Today’s proposal: getting companies to invest more of their lobbying dollars in pro-climate policy. We spoke to Bill Weihl, Executive Director of ClimateVoice, to learn more.

Dr. Weihl: There are companies doing all sorts of amazing things on climate today. Buying clean energy, investing billions in climate solutions. The thing most of them are not doing is actually speaking up on climate policy that will scale all those solutions. Big Tech has devoted about 4% of their lobbying activity at the US federal level to climate related policies; Big Oil has devoted about 38% of theirs. We need the same level of engagement on the part of Big Tech, on the part of healthcare, and other industries.

Ethan: His organization Climate Voice is working on a campaign to urge Big Tech companies to spend more of their lobbying dollars on climate solutions. 

Dr. Weihl: Our major campaign is called “One in Five.” We’re calling on the big US tech companies to make climate one of their top advocacy priorities and devote one in five of their lobbying dollars to policies that will keep warming below 1.5 degrees. Policy is a really, really important part of the solution. We need to mobilize every ounce of political influence and build the broadest coalition we can find.

Ethan: To learn more about ClimateVoice’s campaign for environmental lobbying, visit climatebreak.org.

Corporate Lobbying as an Ally in the Fight Against Climate Change