US firms come round, slowly, on climate


WASHINGTON, D.C.: American business attitudes to climate change were long a mix of resistance and denial, but the US corporate world is beginning to face up to the challenge.

In a sign of the new awakening, last week chief executives of top companies joined President Barack Obama at the White House to launch the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge.”

Some 80 firms pledged an “ongoing commitment to climate action” and support for a “strong” outcome at the global summit on climate change in Paris in December.

Signatories include giants like Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway, Intel, McDonald’s, Unilever, Coca-Cola, and Walt Disney Corp.

The pictures of Obama and top executives discussing the need to fight global warming were mostly symbolic.

But it illustrated the slow conversion of US businesses to a cause they have long ignored—if not actively combated.

“Things have dramatically changed over the last five to 10 years,” said Anne Kelly of the environmental group Ceres. “Increasingly companies are understanding the economic impact of climate change on their businesses.”

The pledges included commitments by each company to cut their contributions to carbon emissions.

Coca-Cola and General Electric have agreed to reduce their carbon footprints by 25 percent and 20 percent, respectively, between now at 2020.

IPhone maker Apple is aiming to use 100-percent renewable energy to power its US activities.

Biotechnology giant Monsanto said it was necessary to adapt to climate change, which a spokesman called “one of the most daunting problems facing our society today.”

General Motors spokeswoman Sharon Basel told Agence France-Presse there are good business reasons for such moves.

“We believe and we continue to prove that there is economic opportunity in sustainability actions such as energy improvements that lower our carbon emissions of our operations and investments in renewable energy,” she said.

The change of tone is undoubtedly partly driven by public relations. But it marks a break with the time when the United States, the world’s second polluter after China, was accused of dragging its feet in world climate negotiations under the pressure of big business.

“The private sector has often been seen as a stumbling block to an international agreement in the past, particularly US companies,” said Kevin Moss of the World Resources Institute.


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