Companies remind Trump: What’s good for the planet can be good for business

Jan 24, 2017

Donald Trump has famously called climate change a hoax. That kind of talk doesn’t just worry scientists and environmentalists; it's also of concern for many American businesses. And they’re letting the new president know it.

Like Mars — the candy company behind M&M’s, Snickers, Twix and Skittles — which recently made a plea to the new president to continue with policies and international commitments to fight climate change.

“We believe that global warming is a significant threat to humanity and that it’s caused by human activity,” says Barry Parkin, Mars’ chief sustainability officer. “We, therefore, believe that we have a responsibility to do our part to mitigate that impending crisis, and the best way this can work is if everybody does their part. So we’re a huge believer in collective action, and that means all countries, all governments, need to get moving.”

Mars, a multinational company based in McClean, Virginia, is one of more than 700 companies that signed a letter to President Trump and members of Congress urging them to take action to cut the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution. They also want the US to stay in the Paris Agreement to fight climate change, which Trump has promised to abandon.

Mars and the other companies say they’re already taking steps on their own to slash their emissions. For example, Mars’ goal is to entirely eliminate its greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2040 through greater efficiency and investing in renewable energy projects like wind turbines.

Other nations are also aligning behind fighting climate change, and, Parkin says, the US needs to fall in line to support US companies: “The thing the US administration will need to think about is US competitiveness and US standing in the world. Global companies can choose where to invest, and they will invest where there is a supportive environment.”

But if Trump stays true to his word and rolls back efforts to cut greenhouse gases, an already daunting task, well, things will get much trickier.

“We’re trying to hike up a mountain that has become a lot steeper, and now there’s a huge headwind in our faces,” says John Sterman with the MIT Sloan School of Management.

Sterman says that in a global market, companies like Mars can only do so much to reduce their carbon footprints. They need support and leadership from the president and Congress.

Other business observers don’t think Trump should listen to these 700 companies urging the president to push forward toward a low-carbon future.

“I don’t think he should take their advice,” says Marlo Lewis with the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian advocacy group in Washington.

You might recognize that organization — Myron Ebell, who works there, has been one of Trump’s top environmental policy advisers. CEI seriously downplays the well-established risks of climate change.

Lewis says a lot of the 700 companies that urged Trump to support low-carbon policies profit from green marketing.  

“You take Ben & Jerry’s, for example. Ben & Jerry’s would lose their customer base if they started talking about climate change the way I do. And then you have a lot of companies that expect to cash in — companies, for example, that make solar panels obviously benefit,” says Lewis.

But Ben & Jerry’s is one company on the list of more than 700, and there are only a handful of solar manufacturers who signed the document.

“So, take Nike, for example,” says Lewis. “I haven’t had time to go through this with a fine-tooth comb or research some of these companies, but you take Nike, most of their production is done in developing Asia, countries that would not face US-style carbon constraints for many decades. And so anything that basically makes energy more expensive and manufacturing more expensive in the United States will actually make Nike factories located in developing Asia more competitive.”

I put that question to a company that manufactures in North Carolina: Wouldn’t you rather have the US government off your back?

“It is possible to simultaneously do things that are good for the environment and meet business requirements, as well,” says Ron Cotterman, vice president of sustainability with the Sealed Air Corporation. That company makes bubble wrap, among other things, and had $7 billion in revenue last year.

Consumers might not associate Sealed Air with marketing itself as a green company, or not being a green company, for that matter, but Sealed Air also signed the low-carbon pledge sent to Trump.

Cotterman says that as they looked for ways to reduce greenhouse gases, they found areas where they could cut costs. For example, how they ship bubble wrap to customers — it’s totally different these days.

“That is a bubble wrap that can be inflated on site — you just ship a roll of film and then it gets inflated, so you’re not shipping all that air,” says Cotterman.

Now, it takes just one truck to deliver what up to 36 trucks used to haul, which translates into huge transportation costs savings. The idea is that policies supporting climate action can also spur business innovation and efficiency.

Still, even if the Trump administration were to pull out of international climate commitments, Mars’ Parkin says the company will keep up its word to fight global warming: “Administrations come and go. This is a long-term threat to the planet, and we’ll have to do it.”  

Trump is the "CEO President" who says he’ll work to make America more business friendly. More than 700 companies — including Monsanto, Staples, Starbucks, Adidas, Adobe, DuPont, Unilever, eBay, Gap, Biogen, The North Face, Tesla, Campbell Soup, Intel, Ikea North America, Salesforce, Virgin, Vans, Levi Strauss & Co. and Lyft to name just a "few" of the heavy-hitters — are asking him to consider how a changing climate could impact how they do business. 


From PRI's The World ©2016 PRI