This fall, Northwest-based global businesses Nike and Starbucks led a group of consumer brands to publicly champion muscular, science-based climate and energy policies. These companies are on the field, playing hardball politics in support of serious efforts to address climate change and jumpstart a clean energy economy.

At a moment when the biggest climate and energy bill ever is moving in Congress, the EPA is finalizing its ruling on greenhouse gases, and Obama just announced major strides on tailpipe standards for auto emissions, where are all the other Northwest companies on climate policy? Amazon? Microsoft? Boeing?

Mostly, as far as we can tell, they seem to be on the sidelines, sitting out the contest. Doing so, however, may contradict their own corporate positions on climate policy. And in politics, silence can be taken as support for the status quo.

A quick survey:

Boeing: It may not be surprising that the aerospace giant has been somewhat understated when it comes to comprehensive climate policy. After all, Boeing’s customers live and die by fuel prices. Still, we are hoping for bolder public leadership from Cascadia’s premier manufacturer. Fossil-fuel dependent companies such as Duke Energy, ConocoPhillips, and BP are all active participants in the US Climate Action Partnership, which advocates the form of national cap and trade reflected in Representative Henry Waxman’s massive and groundbreaking bill. But Boeing has been less assertive in politics than it has in its engineering: After all, Boeing’s 787 is the global leader in fuel-efficient commercial aviation and the company has sunk serious money into biofuels research. In the long term, sales of Boeing’s high-efficiency jets will fare better in an energy economy that moves off the fossil-fuel roller coaster.

Costco looks to be greening its business with experiments in solar and wind energy at store locations.

Amazon and Microsoft, similarly, have greened their business practices. Microsoft, for its part, has invested heavily—and for some time—in sustainability measures ranging from a mega composting program on campus; to the Connector shuttles which takes thousands of cars off the road everyday; to data center power efficiency; to improved power management in Windows—measures which could have global impacts. (Here’s the Microsoft blog on sustainability.)

Additionally, Microsoft CEO Steve Balmer recently sent an email to the entire staff of the company recognizing the importance of climate change and outlining three initiatives that the company intended to take to continue to green its own operations and product line—with climate change specifically in mind. A Microsoft representative told me today that as recently as yesterday (May 18th), the company had a representative at the White House Smart Grid Standards industry roundtable and that next week, someone from Microsoft would be in Copenhagen participating in climate talks and speaking at the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development summit.

What Microsoft hasn’t done yet is stand up for climate policy at the state or national level.

Google has. It’s been a strong public voice for aggressive climate policy (and has matched its words with billions of dollars of investments in energy efficiency, solar, and geothermal resources). Here’s a video of Dan Reicher, Google’s Director of Climate Change and Energy Initiatives, testifying in Congress recently on the need for strong policy.

Climate Counts gave Amazon and Microsoft 5 and 38 points, respectively (out of 100 possible) on its “Climate Report Card.” But, both companies received zero of ten points on “support for public policy that addresses climate change.” (Google only got 55 points total. Costco and Boeing weren’t graded).

Standing on the sidelines of the debate in the state legislatures and in Congress can be as damaging as standing in the way. Groups that corporations affiliate with—like the Chamber of Commerce—are quick to use a company’s silence as a sign of agreement.

Take Microsoft, for example. In Washington, Microsoft is on the executive committee of the Association of Washington Business, which led efforts to defeat Governor Gregoire’s climate legislation earlier this year.  Additionally, Microsoft is a member of the US Chamber of Commerce, which has publicly campaigned against the Obama Administration’s efforts for climate protection and clean energy policy. Because of this stance, a few leading Chamber members, including Oregon’s Nike, have publicly broken with the Chamber, causing a big national stir. Redmond has been silent.

Corporate citizenship matters to employees and supporting communities. In an April ABC/Washington Post survey, 77 percent of Americans supported federal regulations on greenhouse gases. Other research shows that employees prefer working for companies that demonstrate values that match their own, chief among them, the environment and climate protection.

In this context, Nike and Starbucks are looking not only like heroes but also like more appealing employers. As founding members of BICEP (Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy), they’re leading Sun Microsytems, Levi Strauss, Timberland, and a host of other national companies to be outspoken in their support of climate policy.

Short of joining BICEP, Microsoft—and others in the region—could establish as corporate policy that they will not permit business associations to which they belong to represent them, implicitly or explicitly, in any climate policy that runs counter to their corporate policies—namely, supporting the role of government in:

  • direct funding for basic research into renewable and sustainable low-carbon energy sources;
  • market-based mechanisms that are stable and predictable over the long-term and incent the private sector to invest in the transition to sustainable low-carbon energy sources and technologies;
  • and regulatory systems that support innovation and eliminate barriers to the adoption of sustainable low-carbon technologies.

Sound too good to be true? It isn’t. These three bullets are copied verbatim from Microsoft’s corporate climate policy.

Boeing’s reads about the same.

We applaud the sentiment—and all the work that’s already been underway. Now, if they’d just weigh-in when it comes to state and federal climate policy—instead of keeping mum—and stop letting business associations (mis)speak for them, they’d go a long way toward real climate progress.


Thanks to Alan Durning for co-writing this post.