By Zach Bernstein
Voluntary corporate sustainability initiatives and social enterprises are essential but are not game-changers by themselves. In addition, we need laws and regulations that guide our economy toward sound, long-term decision-making, with full recognition of social and environmental externalities. As business leaders, we must support policy changes to help make the economy more sustainable.
A sustainable economy will depend on policies that will advance change on a societal level. Here are three important policies that can do that:
1. Make paid leave the law of the land
When North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp recently announced her support for the FAMILY Act, she said in a statement, “This bill is about investing in our workers and families today and tomorrow – at just the cost of a cup of joe.” The bill would provide 12 weeks of paid leave, with workers earning benefits equal to 66 percent of their monthly wages, to be funded by employer and employee contributions of 0.20 percent of wages. In other words, 2 cents of every $10 earned. In addition, Sen. Heitkamp said, “It would also prevent small businesses from squandering their budgets on rehiring and retraining new employees because they can’t afford paid leave for their workers.”
What’s at stake: The United States is the only developed nation not to guarantee paid maternity leave. Businesses with weak workplace policies run the risk of losing employees. Research indicates that, for jobs paying less than $50,000 per year, the direct cost to replace a worker is 20 percent of his or her annual salary. And when indirect costs are factored in, total costs could be more than one and one half times.
What you can do: As the FAMILY Act continues to gain momentum in Congress, the business community’s role becomes even more crucial. Businesses like EILEEN FISHER and UncommonGoods have spoken out in favor of paid leave legislation like the FAMILY Act. Add your business voice.
Leveling the playing field for business taxes
Toward the end of last year, Congress passed legislation with dozens of tax breaks that included both good and bad. As John O’Neill, tax policy analyst for the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC) has explained, extensions on tax credits for renewable energy and energy efficiency are helpful, but rules that let U.S. multinationals avoid taxes with overseas tax havens are not.
What’s at stake: The tax break legislation made permanent or extended tax rules that allow companies to shift income offshore to avoid paying taxes. This means that those companies can continue to take advantage of U.S. public services like security, the legal system, and infrastructure, without paying their share of taxes – and forcing consumers and smaller businesses to pick up the slack.
What you can do: Congress needs to level the playing field for business tax policies. Most businesses – think of your neighborhood coffee shop – don’t have the resources or desire to move their operations or income overseas. It isn’t fair to ask them or their customers to bear a heavier tax burden while larger firms do not. Congress could still move on to inclusive tax reform; if that happens, your business can show support for closing offshore tax loopholes.
Support the Clean Power Plan
The EPA’s Clean Power Plan is under attack in federal court. In a recent ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court granted a stay, which prevents implementation of the plan until the D.C. Circuit Court rules in early June. The lawsuit at the center of this was brought by officials in 25 states and joined by powerful lobby groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. On the other side are 18 states as well as responsible business groups like the American Sustainable Business Council and the South Carolina Small Business Chamber of Commerce, which recently requested permission to file a “friend of the court brief” in support of the EPA.
What’s at stake: The Clean Power Plan represents the most significant effort by the federal government to cut greenhouse gas pollution and address climate change, goals supported by most small business owners. They know that left unchecked, climate change will lead to higher energy costs, supply chain disruptions, and severe weather. States should be focusing on efforts to comply with the Clean Power Plan rather than wasting time on a misguided effort to eliminate it.
What you can do: In addition to court challenges, the risk remains that Congress will attempt to block the rule through future legislation or budget maneuvers. Such moves would be bad for business and most industries. Most businesses want efforts to cut greenhouse gas pollution, avoid the effects of climate change, and move to energy sources that will make us more prosperous in the future. The Clean Power Plan can help achieve those goals – show your business’ support for this rule.
Image credit: Flickr/Diego Cambiaso
Zach Bernstein is Manager of Research and Social Media for the American Sustainable Business Council.