Op Ed: K Street Hinders the Sustainability Movement in America

kst.jpgIf corporations are threatened to be taxed or regulated by the government in ways that may reduce their profits, they use their riches to invest on K Street, (otherwise known as “Lobbyist Boulevard”) in Washington. Currently, there are over 34,000 lobbyists in the U.S. According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, the Citizens for Tax Justice, and Public Campaign, “forty-one companies (including GE, Microsoft, and Disney) ‘contributed’ $150 million to political parties and campaigns for U.S. Federal candidates between 1999 and 2001, and enjoyed $55billion in tax breaks in three tax years alone”. The Pharmaceutical industry employs the highest number of 3,000 lobbyists and has spent $759 million to influence 1,4000 congressional bills between 1998 and 2004.

The United States emits approximately 25% of all greenhouse gases. Over the course of the twentieth century the U.S. has emitted 50% more GHG than all of the world’s developing countries combined. 3 influential stakeholders in the U.S. against the Kyoto Protocol are the oil, gas, and coal industries. Therefore, U.S. corporations influenced the government more than 141 other countries that signed the treaty. It is outrageous that the world’s economic leader and largest polluter was influenced by the size of corporate checks instead of the economic, environmental, and social welfare of their own citizens.
The Center for Public Trust found that the oil and gas industry has spent more than $354 million on lobbying activities between 1998 and 2004, pushing hard on everything from a new national energy policy to obscure changes in the tax code. The top contributor was Exxon-Mobil with a total of $51 million in lobbying expenditures. Spending $24 million was British Petroleum, a controversial “green-washer”.
Green-washing is a term used to describe the activity of giving a positive public image to putatively environmentally unsound practices. Typically, it is a marketing technique used to distract the consumer from the company’s lack of transparency as it relates to their sustainable business practices. Companies become more transparent through their corporate social responsibility reports. These can usually be found on public companies’ websites along with their financial statements. I encourage you to look at them to see how green they really are compared to their public relations campaign.
Without pressure from civil society and government, corporations have very little incentive to protect the environment. We as citizens need to speak up and fight the lobbyists’ influence if we want natural resources to be available for future generations. Send your local, state, and federal government officials letters to tell them you are concerned about sustainability and that you want change now. Use your dollar power to convince corporations that you want more environmentally friendly products and services. Boycotting unsustainable businesses will let their shareholders know that you are not in favor of their business practices.
Let us tell the government, corporations, and K Street that we want the United States of America to be a leader in the sustainability movement.
Jules Macaluso is a Sustainable Management MBA student from the Presidio School of Management. She is a resident of Emeryville, California.