How companies can take the lead on climate action post-Paris accord

President Trump has made his point of view clear on the Paris climate accord, and so have consumers. Research shows they want non-government entities to take the lead on the issue.

Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, By Presidencia de la Rep├║blica Mexicana - https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidenciamx/23430273715/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia
Heads of delegations at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. (Image via Wikimedia Commons, By Presidencia de la Rep├║blica Mexicana - https://www.flickr.com/photos/presidenciamx/23430273715/, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia

With President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the country is facing a new reality in which the federal government has chosen not to lead on climate change and clean energy.

Although the message from the White House was clear, a different message has echoed back from NGOs, governors, mayors, and business leaders: a recommitment to the environment, natural resources, and unifying a global movement for a better future.

Since Trump’s announcement, companies and brand leaders are doubling down on their individual commitments to the planet, while expressing dismay in the direction of the administration. Leaders such as Apple’s Tim Cook and Tesla’s Elon Musk have made their stances clear—even Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein stood up to Trump’s decision in his very first tweet.

The CEOs speaking out against Trump’s decision may not be motivated by altruistsm, but rather because they understand the business implications of not taking action. Tackling climate change is simply good for business. It eliminates risk and creates efficiencies, including transitioning to more reliable energy sources with the added benefit of generating jobs and supporting economic growth.

Using the president’s favorite communications channel, GE CEO Jeff Immelt sent a succinct but serious message to the world, "Climate change is real. Industry must now lead and not depend on government."

Here is the clear opportunity for companies: a vacuum that business in many ways has already and should continue to fill. In fact, Lynelle Cameron, the president and CEO of the Autodesk Foundation, said in a CNBC op-ed that Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement "may be the best thing that ever happened to the planet" as it will motivate the private sector to act in unprecedented ways. Just days after Trump’s withdrawal announcement, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg submitted a statement to the United Nations that more than 1,000 U.S. governors, mayors, businesses, universities, and others will continue to meet the goals of the Paris agreement. Now more than ever, brands have the opportunity to demonstrate sustainability leadership and show that, like their consumers and stakeholders, they value and respect the planet.

Ready to take the leadership plunge? Here are three ways business can take this moment and create opportunity:

Speak loudly
New Cone Communications research revealed 63% of Americans are hopeful business will take the lead on social and environmental change in the absence of government regulation. The mandate from consumers is clear and the time is now. No matter the sector, companies should feel empowered to not only share their commitments and goals, but also be a voice on the broader stage. Sign coalition letters, get on podiums, and get your CEO to write a byline. Join the deepening groundswell of support and be prepared to step into the spotlight.

Make sustainability a value prop
According to Yale research, seven in 10 Americans of all political affiliations wanted the U.S. to stay in the agreement. This is an issue Americans truly care about, and they don’t have to be environmentalists to show it. All companies, not just the Patagonias of the world, have the opportunity to weave their environmental commitments into their brand-value proposition. Consumers are already looking for it: 79% of Americans say they seek products that are socially or environmentally responsible whenever possible, and nearly eight-in-10 would switch brands if they found one better supporting these worthy causes.

Be a catalyst
While most (61% ) are worried about global warming, Americans feel powerless to stop it. A report from the University of Warwick cited a phenomenon called "climate change helplessness," or the belief that climate change is "so massive and terrifying," it is out of our personal control. Here’s where companies can help. Brands can harness their marketing prowess to get consumers engaged and excited in making meaningful changes not only through the products they buy but also the actions they take – and how that can ladder up to greater collective impact.

Although last week’s announcement may have seemed like a blow to the NGOs, companies, CEOs, and others who have fought so hard to protect both our economic and environmental health through the ratification of the Paris agreement, Trump’s decision may have actually inspired a bigger, stronger climate movement in the U.S. and around the world. In the absence of federal climate leadership, business has both the mandate and the means to create real, meaningful, and, most importantly, lasting change.

Aaron Pickering is VP of corporate responsibility and reputation at Cone Communications.

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