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Jan Lee headshot

How Corporate Climate Change Talk Differs Online, in D.C.

Words by Jan Lee

There are many ways that a company can show its support for proactive environmental policies these days. Organizations like the Institute for Marketology, SA8000, the Forestry Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative provide mechanisms by which consumers can verify that a company's sustainable business practices live up to the claims it makes. But how do consumers determine the climate change policies of a corporation?

How do they know, for example, what a given corporation's stand is on statements made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or policies of the Environmental Protection Agency? And how do they know what a corporation's affiliations are when it comes to lobbying organizations or trade organizations that take positions on climate change and future policies?

A U.K.-based organization has taken the first steps toward answering that question, with an online assessment tool that rates companies on their policies and actions toward climate change. InfluenceMap categorized 100 top global companies by looking at the actions they have taken in the past concerning climate change (business practices they have instituted, statements they have made, etc.) as well as their affiliation to other organizations that lobby against climate change legislation, such as ALEC, National Association of Manufacturers or the American Petroleum Institute.

Developed by Dylan Tanner, the former CEO of Ekobai, and Thomas O'Neill, a researcher with experience tracking the influential behavior of companies when it comes to climate change, InfluenceMap also has the support of the Union of Concerned Scientists, which helped develop the metrics for this rating system.

The authors point out that their goal wasn't just to rate a company's behavior when it came to lobbying in Washington and state capitols, but their public and private efforts to influence climate change policies and legislation.

"We use the term "influence" rather than lobbying for good reason. The capture of climate change policy by corporations extends beyond formal and financial interactions between lawmakers and corporations and their representatives," explain the authors in the summary.

Since the rise of social media in the 1990s, companies' methods for getting their views heard when it comes to climate change have diversified. On topics that they may feel directly impact their businesses, they often take steps to ensure that "the appropriate policy response are heard loudly at multiple levels." That may include phone calls to politicians as well as press releases opposing or countering a policy. The InfluenceMap takes all of these direct and indirect actions into account and uses them to rate companies' proactive stance toward climate change.

Its three key areas of assessment -- organization, relationship and engagement -- examine the corporation's performance and position when it comes to its public stance, the transparency of its policies, and its approach toward climate change legislation, carbon tax, emissions trading and other constructive approaches.

While companies like Google and Unilever are at the top of the list for their positive, outspoken efforts to address climate change, the Koch Industries and Phillips 66 share the bottom as those who have the worst track-record when it comes to supporting changes that will address global warming. Companies like Verizon and Dupont, were noted as having mixed positions on climate change and didn't fair that much better, either. While Dupont gained points for "climate science transparency," it lost points for social media statements and other disclosures it made that didn't clearly define its position on greenhouse gas standards.

It's noteworthy that only three companies received the top mark of "B" -- Google, Unilever and Cisco Systems. The lion's share, 64 companies, received lower than "C-." No corporation received an "A."

It's interesting that in many cases, corporation didn't receive the same grade for its stance on a given topic when it came to published material on its website, as it did for statements published say, on social media. Toyota Motor Corp.  for example, received a positive score for its support for energy efficiency standards that it published on its website, but received negative grading for media reports suggesting it would take legal action against the government's efforts to enact those same standards.

InfluenceMap offers another more comprehensive way of assessing a corporation's statement when it comes to its position on climate change. But just importantly, it sets the benchmarks that corporations can strive toward to clarify their positions on topics that increasingly are becoming the drivers to the economy as well as the health of the planet.

Images: Anthony Quintano; InfluenceMap

Jan Lee headshotJan Lee

Jan Lee is a former news editor and award-winning editorial writer whose non-fiction and fiction have been published in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the U.K. and Australia. Her articles and posts can be found on TriplePundit, JustMeans, and her blog, The Multicultural Jew, as well as other publications. She currently splits her residence between the city of Vancouver, British Columbia and the rural farmlands of Idaho.

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