Ceres brings the voice of business to Congress in push for climate solutions
By Steve Valk
When corporate CEOs speak, members of Congress — especially Republicans — listen. And so it was fortunate that one month before CCL volunteers held virtual lobby meetings with Congress, the sustainability and advocacy nonprofit Ceres organized the largest-ever business-led advocacy day for climate action in which 330 business representatives met with more than 80 congressional offices.
Among the companies participating in LEAD on Climate 2020 were Adobe, Capital One, CommonSpirit Health, DSM North America, Dow, Eileen Fisher, General Mills, Mars, Inc., Microsoft, NIKE, Salesforce and VISA. The virtual meetings were held with policymakers on both sides of the aisle.
For more than a decade, Ceres has mobilized companies and investors to advocate for stronger policies that address the climate crisis. Well-respected in the corporate world, they bring clout to Capitol Hill on this issue, and are also a tremendous ally in the fight for a price on carbon pollution.
This was the second time Ceres has connected advocates from the business world with federal lawmakers to press for action on climate change. Last year’s LEAD on Carbon Pricing event brought 75 companies to Capitol Hill for meetings that focused on carbon pricing. This year’s event, held on May 13, was originally intended to focus on carbon pricing, as well, but when the coronavirus pandemic hit, Ceres decided to broaden the agenda to include:
- An accelerated transition to a net-zero emissions economy by 2050 or sooner.
- More investment in resilient infrastructure.
- Effective climate solutions—including those that fully leverage the job opportunities of zero-carbon industries.
- Support for longer-term, market-wide policy mechanisms such as a price on carbon.
“We reframed it knowing that long-term solutions like carbon pricing are important, but that there were immediate opportunities that companies could speak to,” Anne Kelly, vice president of government relations at Ceres, told GreenBiz.
The “immediate opportunities” Kelly spoke of revolved around spending and infrastructure packages being negotiated to provide economic relief during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has shuttered many businesses and left millions of Americans unemployed. It’s hoped that in the economic recovery following the pandemic, Congress will invest in projects that support the growth of renewable energy and make infrastructure more resilient to climate change.
“Today we have a health crisis, an economic crisis and a climate crisis all happening at once. The best solutions will tackle all three together. We have a distinct opportunity at this unique moment in history to define what we want our future to look like,” said Patrick Flynn, Vice President of Sustainability at Salesforce. “It will take bold action and so we need the business voice to be unified and clear. We at Salesforce are inspired to see so many companies calling for plans that build back better, focused on equitable, resilient solutions that put the U.S. on a 1.5 degree pathway.”
Prior to the advocacy day, Ceres hosted a day of virtual sessions featuring thought leaders like Jerry Taylor of the Niskanen Center, Robert Barbieri from PepsiCo, Adele Morris from Brookings and senators Chris Coons and Sheldon Whitehouse.
Kelly said the success of the advocacy days and the enthusiasm of business participants is leading Ceres to consider organizing more of these events throughout the year. “Based on the rave reviews, I’d say many colleagues are hooked,” she told GreenBiz.
The advocacy days organized by Ceres truly complement the work of CCL. CCL’s own business-focused action team, Business Climate Leaders, was a sponsor of this event and helped engage businesses to participate in the lobbying push. Through the work of CCL and Ceres, members of Congress hear from both constituents and the business community on the need to price carbon, increasing support to prioritize this climate solution.
“CCL and Ceres have the ability to deliver two distinct and influential constituencies in lobby meetings, and we both have an emphasis on effective carbon pricing,” said Taylor Krause, CCL’s National Outreach and Partnership Coordinator. “It’s a natural fit for collaboration, and I hope we can work together more in the future.”
Taylor is the liaison between CCL and Ceres. CCL volunteers who have questions or want to work with Ceres can contact her at email@example.com.
At last year’s LEAD event, which focused on carbon pricing, Ceres laid out several principles for an effective price on carbon:
- Get the price right. Specifically, it needs to be high enough to make an impact.
- Take care of those who are most vulnerable.
- Keep the U.S. competitive.
On a CCL national call in March of 2019, Kelly acknowledged the work of CCL with GOP offices, telling volunteers the lesson of the past few years is that “we can, in fact, pull Republicans onto this issue. You’ve done it incredibly effectively.” In addition to groups like CCL having lawmakers’ backs when they step up on climate issues, Ceres works to activate the business community and show them support as well.
The uncertainty of the upcoming election can result in a number of scenarios as to which party controls the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. No matter the scenario, though, enlisting bipartisan support improves the chances of enacting climate solutions that will endure over time. With their ability to bring the voice of big business to the table, Ceres is well positioned to help bring Republicans on board for a bipartisan effort to enact an effective and fair price on carbon.
There’s an old proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” With allies like Ceres, we can indeed go far.