Sierra Club’s Beyond Oil Campaign and the 2012 Elections

Going back to last week’s domestic policy debate between President Obama and Governor Romney, you could not help but notice that both candidates had a generally positive approach to oil. The main quarrel was over if the President is drilling enough (“We’re actually drilling more on public lands than the previous administration”) or not.

It’s true that both candidates mentioned renewable energy and President Obama even attacked Romney over the lack of renewables in his energy policy, but it seemed like renewable energy is a solution for the future, while right now American oil (and gas) is what we need. Given these positions, Sierra Club’s latest campaign Beyond Oil, with its slogan, “It’s Time to Move America Beyond Oil” seems more relevant than ever for anyone who believes the time is now.

One of these people is Michael Marx, the director of the campaign, whom I talked with at the COMMIT! Forum earlier this month. Here’s an edited excerpt of our conversation:

TriplePundit: Can you tell us a little bit about this campaign?

Michael Marx: This is a three-part campaign – supply side campaign, demand side campaign and a political side campaign. On the supply side, our focus is really on blocking infrastructure and trying to slow down the introduction of high carbon fuels like tar sands oil from Canada, which is 20-30 percent more carbon intense, very water intense and very environmentally destructive.

The second track is the demand reduction track – we’re now introducing a green fleets campaign, where we’ll ask major companies with large fleets to assess their oil footprint, to commit to reducing this footprint at a certain percentage within five years and to exclude tar sand oil wherever possible from their purchases.

The reason we’re doing it is because we think the Sierra Club really needs to put its brand on the line with carrots and sticks – for those companies that are willing to make the commitment and be aggressive in terms of leadership, we want to recognize them and do it in a way that we hope really burnishes their brand. For those companies that have been laggards and want to continue to be laggards, we’re going to mobilize our state chapters and campus chapters and we will go after them.

3P: And the political part?

MM: The political part is really about cutting the cord between oil money, primarily, and politicians. In that arena, what we’re envisioning doing is first of all publicizing politicians who take significant amounts of oil money. Secondly, is publicizing the votes they make that represent the oil interest over the public interest. And third, it’s actually publicizing companies and executives of companies that are contributing to these politicians. What we’d like to do is to put political and companies’ brands at risk. There are examples of companies, where they made a commitment to fight climate change, and then they proceed to give huge amounts of money externally to some of the worst climate legislators.

3P: Do you have an example of such a company?

MM: Walmart is an example. I don’t know where they are in this election cycle, but in the two previous cycles that we looked at, they were a company that was committed to making climate change as one of their top priorities, and you look where their PAC money went – it went consistently to politicians who failed on the League of Conservation’s voting score.

3P: Are you already doing it?

MM: This year, because it’s an election cycle, we’re doing it with our political PAC, so we have targeted along with the League of Conservation voters a number of politicians that we think are particularly vulnerable, and we have been advertising through this elections, saying ‘Here’s how much money they took and here’s how they voted.’ We want to highlight those areas where their votes were really threatening to the health of children and of the communities.

3P: And does it have an impact?

MM: Yes. There are two campaigns where I have seen polling results that suggest it is really working. Part of the reason we’re doing this is because we’re taking a lesson from the tobacco campaigns, where there was good polling to suggest that when you looked at the way people voted, or their intention to vote, there was really no difference whether the person they were considering voting for favored tobacco restrictions or not. But there was a huge shift as soon as they knew that the person who was opposing the restrictions also took large amounts of tobacco money.

3P: Wouldn’t you think that people would already be able to connect the dots with all the information available now?

MM: Our job is to make it as easy as possible. My sense is that these days most people are running so fast on the economic treadmill just to keep up that they’re not really tuning in to a lot of this, but as an NGO, this is our responsibility to society – to make this information available, make sure it’s accurate and connect the dots for them.

[Image credit: Sierra Club]

Raz Godelnik is the co-founder of Eco-Libris and an adjunct faculty at the University of Delaware’s Business School, CUNY SPS and the New School, teaching courses in green business, sustainable design and new product development. You can follow Raz on Twitter.

Raz Godelnik

Raz Godelnik is an Assistant Professor and the Co-Director of the MS in Strategic Design & Management program at Parsons School of Design in New York. Currently, his research projects focus on the impact of the sharing economy on traditional business, the sharing economy and cities’ resilience, the future of design thinking, and the integration of sustainability into Millennials’ lifestyles. Raz is the co-founder of two green startups – Hemper Jeans and Eco-Libris and holds an MBA from Tel Aviv University.

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