A spike in intentionally set fires in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil has provoked an international response from government leaders due to the devastating impact these fires could have on the world’s climate – and now, the corporate community has also begun to speak up. That’s significant because of the somewhat fraught political landscape surrounding the Amazon fires: Brazil’s President, Jair Bolsonaro, is widely viewed as a close ally of U.S. President Donald Trump, who continues to deny that global warming is rooted in human activity.
Tim Cook pledges Apple action on the Amazon fires
Apple CEO Tim Cook was among the first, if not the first, leading executive to pledge funds to help fight the Amazon fires.
Though Bolsonaro has been accused of enabling the unusual number of intentionally set fires in the Amazon, Cook did not address the politics underlying the emergency. In fact, he avoided focusing attention on Brazil altogether — an accurate take, considering that Brazil encompasses most, but not all, of the Amazon.
Instead, he focused on preserving biodiversity, stating on his personal Twitter account earlier this week that it is “devastating to see the fires and destruction ravaging the Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s most important ecosystems,” and that “Apple will be donating to help preserve its biodiversity and restore the Amazon’s indispensable forest across Latin America.”
With this statement, Cook deployed a strategy similar to that employed by other companies that have pushed back against harmful or unethical government policies here in the U.S., by focusing attention on areas of strong social consensus rather than criticizing individuals in power.
The value of corporate giving
As of this writing, the media spotlight has not been shining on other global companies pledging to help fight the Amazon fires. Nevertheless, nonprofit organizations are already laying the groundwork for additional corporate action.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest environmental project, Earth Alliance, is a case in point. The organization launched on July 2 with co-founder and social justice advocate Laurene Powell Jobs with a focus on supporting and preserving biodiversity. As the widow of Apple’s iconic founder Steve Jobs, she may have inspired Tim Cook to take up a vanguard position on the Amazon wildfires, but her potential for influence through Earth Alliance goes well beyond a single company.
Earth Alliance is a powerful next step for the existing Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, in partnership with Jobs’s Emerson Collective and Global Wildlife Conservation. In addition to his work with Jobs, DiCaprio sits on the boards of several environmental organizations that partner with leading global companies, including World Wildlife Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Earth Alliance has already set a high bar by pledging $5 million toward the effort to fight Amazon wildfires.
In comparison, the G7 countries have collectively pledged $20 million. Britain and Canada have also separately pledged $12 million and $11 million, respectively.
A call to action for leading partners
Whether or not they seek media attention, other leading companies have also been drawn into the Amazon fires though their affiliation with the Rainforest Alliance.
Rainforest Alliance works with global companies on eliminating forest destruction in their supply chains through the Accountability Framework Initiative among other activities.
The organization has taken a slightly more confrontational approach toward the Amazon fires, though it refrains from criticizing Bolsonaro directly. Its website features this call to action:
“Following a staggering increase in fires this year, with flames and smoke captured on both NASA and NOAA satellites from space, it's clear the world must stand together to stop ongoing threats to the Amazon, which is vital to the world’s climate stability.”
Rainforest Alliance also states that “we are mobilizing our broad network of partners to fight the ongoing destruction of this precious ecosystem.”
That network currently includes leading corporations like P&G and L’Oreal, along with thousands of other companies that are currently participating in the organization’s certification process.
When a climate crisis becomes a bottom-line crisis, too
Though few multinational CEOs have followed Tim Cook’s lead so far, the Amazon fires may well end up demonstrating that corporations are primed and ready to act on global climate threats, whether through direct donations or affiliation with nonprofits and trade organizations.
The window for action is beginning to close, however. The European Union, for one, is already threatening trade sanctions unless Bolsonaro acts aggressively to stem the fires. The Brazilian president’s refusal to accept any funding from the G7 nations puts even more pressure on the private sector to step up.
With the global economy already sliding toward recession, CEOs cannot afford to ignore the threat of another trade war – nor can their companies afford the larger risks as the world teeters from surging climate change risks to a full-blown climate crisis.
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Image credit: Birgit Lengert/Unsplash
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.