By Flannery Winchester
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group (SVLG) — have you heard of them? Maybe not, but SVLG is a public policy trade association representing businesses that are household names: Airbnb. Apple. AT&T. Bank of America. Coca-Cola. Facebook. General Motors. Google. Johnson & Johnson. Microsoft. United Airlines. Uber. Wells Fargo. The list goes on.
“Our members come to us to represent their best interests on a range of issues,” explains Mike Mielke, SVLG’s Senior Vice President of Energy and Environment. They work on tax policy, health policy, transportation policy, land use and housing policy, energy policy, and so on. “We discuss what is happening, what the impacts mean for our member companies, and then we decide whether or not an issue rises to the level of something we should take a position on,” Mielke says.
Recently, carbon pricing and the Energy Innovation Act (H.R. 763) rose to that level. SVLG made a statement saying, in part, “The Silicon Valley Leadership Group supports a price on carbon. Our position on H.R. 763 is support in principle. In particular, we look forward to working with the authors to specify how they will work with California and other jurisdictions with existing carbon pricing regimes to implement a coherent carbon pricing system.”
The “in principle” caveat means there are still some details to clarify, such as how the Energy Innovation Act would affect California’s current cap and trade law. But, Mielke says, “Given the work that has been done, the fact that it’s bipartisan, and a number of other factors, we didn’t want to wait before putting forward our position.”
Working with Business Climate Leaders
One of those factors is SVLG’s relationship with Business Climate Leaders (BCL), an action team of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Steve Hams, cofounder of BCL, met Mielke about three years ago. Since they were both interested in addressing climate change and activating businesses in the effort, theirs was a natural partnership. “We agreed it would be worth trying to bring together a number of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group member companies to talk about carbon pricing and to discuss the possibility of joint advocacy,” Hams says.
The first big step of this partnership was to convene more than a dozen titans of the high-tech industry, including Apple, Microsoft and HP Inc., in October 2017. “We spent time talking with the companies and educating them about carbon pricing,” Hams says. Many of them were familiar with the idea but not the particulars of specific proposals. BCL also brought in Danny Richter, CCL’s VP of Government Affairs, to discuss the legislative landscape with these companies.
The companies brought all that information back to their leadership, and in April 2018, the group reconvened. Hams says, “We got further down the road, I think, in terms of people understanding carbon pricing and talking more seriously about potential advocacy. Danny again joined us for that, and we also had a message from Rep. Eshoo, lending her support to the whole effort.” Anna Eshoo represents California’s 18th district, which includes the Silicon Valley area.
All of these meetings laid a strong foundation for SVLG to take a position on carbon pricing and the Energy Innovation Act. CCL’s work beyond BCL made an impact, too. Mielke says SVLG’s member companies were impressed by the breadth and reach of CCL, with more than 120,000 supporters across every congressional district. “What was also impressive to our members was that [CCL volunteers] were very bipartisan in their approach,” he adds. “We agree as an organization that that is key to ensuring we have lasting, durable policy, with much less likelihood of whatever comes to pass getting overturned in subsequent administrations or in subsequent sessions of Congress.”
Impact in Congress
SVLG’s statement carries a lot of weight with members of Congress, many of whom are focused on supporting innovation as a path to address climate change. “We represent the whole ecosystem of the Valley, really, from the higher education institutions, to the venture capital, to the more mature companies,” Mielke explains. “So when we take a position on something, we’re speaking on behalf of the innovation economy.”
While state, local and regional policy is “our bread and butter,” according to Mielke, SVLG travels to D.C. to lobby a couple of times per year to discuss a few select national issues. “We do speak directly with members of Congress and their staff,” Mielke says. They were just on the Hill last month speaking to members of Congress about this legislation. “We communicate that [support] more broadly as well, with members of nonprofit organizations, other elected or appointed officials, wherever the opportunity presents itself,” he adds.
And BCL has already found opportunities to communicate SVLG’s support. Hams says, “Their statement of support in principle for the bill is a very strong statement. It’s something we’ve been able to share with other organizations, and they find it very meaningful.”
With this position now public, SVLG and BCL will continue to work to activate individual companies around carbon pricing. “At that second meeting, [the businesses] said it would help significantly if they could get some data around how our bill and the Climate Leadership Council’s proposal would affect their bottom line,” Hams explains.
An organization called Aligned Incentives, which has worked with Hewlett Packard Enterprise and other large companies on sustainability and clean energy efforts, was at that meeting. Business Climate Leaders engaged Aligned Incentives to analyze the impact of carbon pricing proposals on five specific companies funding the study, as well as on the general IT sector.
“That study is in progress. We expect it to be done within the month, and then we will share the outcomes with the companies we’ve been working with,” Hams says. “Our hope is that it will be another piece of information that will allow them to talk with their leadership about taking a more active advocacy role around carbon pricing.” Some, like Microsoft, already are.
Meanwhile, SVLG and BCL continue to carry their message to Congress. “Mike has joined us in our last couple of meetings in district with Rep. Eshoo,” Hams says. It’s clear that this statement is by no means the end of their work together. In fact, it feels like they’re just getting started.
To learn more about or join the Business Climate Leaders action team, volunteers can visit the BCL page on CCL Community.