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Tina Casey headshot

Mars & 360 More U.S. Businesses Sign Climate Declaration

President Obama will present a major address on climate change at Georgetown University at 1:35 p.m. (Eastern) Tuesday, June 25, and in a major show of support, last week U.S. food giant Mars, Inc. joined with 360 small businesses to sign onto the BICEP climate declaration organized by the sustainable business group, Ceres.

We don't anticipate any big surprises in the speech, given the flurry of climate-related initiatives under the Obama Administration that TriplePundit has chronicled since he took office in 2008. However, with major issues like natural gas fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline looming, it's worth noting that major players in the U.S. business community -- outside of the fossil fuel industry, that is -- have come to recognize that aggressive support for federal climate action is critical to their long-term survival.

The business case for federal climate regulations

The White House has been heavily promoting the Obama climate speech on YouTube and Twitter over the weekend, hammering home the theme that the "transition to a clean energy economy" is the key to the future.

For that reason, one thing we do expect out of the speech is a forceful argument for the role of the federal government in regulating harmful emissions and providing incentives for economic activity that is less risky and less harmful to public health.

Advance word is that the speech will include a push for tighter regulation of emissions from the nation's fleet of aging coal-fired power plants, which is all but certain to result in the closure of many. Don't mistake that for a radical strategy, though. One trend we've been tracking over the past several years is the decline in coal power generation as natural gas, biomass, wind power and other alternatives mainstream into the utility market.

BICEP and the clean energy economy

The BICEP (Business for Innovative Climate & Energy) coalition has taken the same tack of emphasizing the economic benefits of transitioning to clean energy rather than focusing narrowly on a "save the planet" theme.

Demonstrating a publicity-oriented knack for timing its announcements, last year BICEP kicked off a campaign in favor of extending the production tax credit for wind power at the height of the presidential campaign, and earlier this year, it introduced the Climate Declaration during Congressional hearings over the confirmation of Gina McCarthy to head the Environmental Protection Agency.

The Climate Declaration begins with the bold-faced headline, "Tackling climate change is one of America's greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century," over the more modestly presented subheading, "and it's simply the right thing to do."

At its launch, the Climate Declaration boasted 40 major signatories accounting for 475,000 jobs. That included companies and trade organizations directly impacted by climate change such as the Outdoor Industry Association, The North Face and Aspen-Snowmass.

The list also included companies that stand to benefit directly from new federal incentives for clean energy and energy conservation, including KB Home and SunPower, as well as companies like Starbucks, Levi Strauss & Co. and IKEA which depend on a sustainable resource network of agriculture, forestry and water.

GM added more muscle to BICEP by signing onto the declaration in May, followed closely by more than 100 ski resorts later that month.

Ceres really pulled out all the stops for President Obama's upcoming speech, though. The first move came on June 18, when Ceres announced that Mars, which it identified as "an icon of American industry," had signed onto the Climate Declaration.

Brad Figel, vice president of public affairs for Mars North America, was pretty clear about the need for a more aggressive climate action push by businesses:

Climate change has implications for the production of agricultural ingredients from corn to cocoa, and addressing it requires changes to the way we source materials and manufacture our products. Therefore, it is imperative we continue to improve sustainability in our approach to business, as well as the way we create policy, which is why it is important for us to make our voice heard through BICEP in encouraging policymakers to take action now.

Just two days later, on June 20, Ceres followed up with an announcement that about 360 small businesses had signed the Climate Declaration (the list of signatories is available here), as business leaders gathered in Washington, DC to celebrate National Small Business Week.

For this announcement, Ceres echoed another theme that shows up in the YouTube promotion for the Obama climate speech (here's that link again), which is the fact that climate-related storms, wildfires and floods affect all business of any kind in the area of impact. As neatly stated by one signatory, the Boston IT services company Tech Networks:

Small business owners are flexible and adaptable to changing economic conditions, but not to disastrous weather and climate. Our livelihoods could be easily wiped away by a storm like Sandy. We signed the Declaration and are here in Washington to remind members of Congress that responding to this problem—rather than wishing it away—is the course of action that will lead to a better economic outlook for American businesses.

...And what about Keystone?

As for hot-button issues like the Keystone XL Pipeline and natural gas fracking, we don't expect President Obama to mention them specifically. However, if you think of coal-fired power plants as the low-hanging fruit, the future does not bode well for fossil fuel ventures that impact public health or contaminate water and other valuable resources, whether it involves burning, transportation or harvesting.

[Image: M&Ms by FlyNutAA]

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

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