Neil Armstrong about to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969

Will companies seize the moment — and go all-in on climate?

Bill Weihl
Sep 19 · 4 min read

I’m on my way to NYC to attend the Climate Strike there, and also the Youth Climate Summit and some other events during Climate Week next week. For the first time in a while, I’m feeling truly hopeful. Not hopeful simply in the sense of believing that the climate problem is solvable — it is. But hopeful in the sense of believing that we are at a watershed moment in history, where support is rapidly building for the kind of aggressive action we need.

Companies have been acting on climate in their own operations more and more aggressively, and more and more companies have engaged. This has been vital to help drive support for climate action, and to create demand in the marketplace for solutions, helping drive them to scale and drive down their costs. I’m proud to have been a part of this work at two leading companies (Google and Facebook), and to have worked with dedicated colleagues in many other companies to scale these efforts.

And yet, millions will be in the streets tomorrow because we still need to move faster — much, much faster. Young people around the world have moved from depression, to anger, to action. But they don’t control the levers of power or of commerce — so they are demanding much faster action from those who do. They want those with power and influence to work with them to act — boldly, and quickly.

I’ve been heartened by the number of companies announcing new targets and new initiatives in the last few weeks. Hundreds of business have announced their support for the youth who will be striking tomorrow. And some businesses have made bold new commitments, including Amazon, which has lagged behind its peers, but just announced a new commitment to aggressive climate action across its entire operations.

But we still need more. It’s time for businesses to go all-in on climate: in their operations (clean energy, energy efficiency, clean fleets, investments, etc), in their supply chains, in their products (including financial products — banks and insurance companies need to phase out their finance and underwriting of GHG pollution!) — but perhaps most important in their advocacy.

Why advocacy? We need market rules to put the guardrails in place to give us reasonable assurance that we will decarbonize at the rate the science says we need to do. Without those rules, companies will mostly optimize for their own bottom lines — and while that has generated some progress, it hasn’t generated it fast enough, and the risk that it won’t be fast enough in the coming decades is enormous. Those market rules could include a price on carbon, but almost certainly need to be more than that to drive the transformation needed fast enough.

And why companies? Companies have enormous influence across society. Fossil fuel companies use theirs to prevent, delay, and weaken action — because climate action threatens their bottom line. Other companies are acting on climate, but are mostly on the sidelines when it comes to advocacy. (Not entirely — a few companies have really begun to step up in the last couple of years. But not enough companies, and not often enough.) That leaves the political playing field massively tilted toward those invested in the status quo. In this situation, silence is not neutrality — it’s complicity with the status quo.

So here’s my call to action: companies need to move from action to advocacy. Seize this moment, and join the scientists and the youth in helping make real climate action — rapidly, and at scale — a reality. Adopt a science-based climate policy agenda, rooted in climate justice, everywhere you operate. (Bonus points: do this everywhere you source products and materials!) That agenda needs to be aligned with the best science, which says essentially that we need to cut emissions in half by 2030, and to zero by 2050. And it can’t perpetuate the environmental injustices we’ve perpetrated in the last century, nor can it leave workers behind as we make the transition to a low-carbon economy.

More to come on what that agenda should look like — but for now, let’s see if companies will rise to the occasion and become strong and consistent advocates for the kinds of policies we need to scale climate solutions rapidly.

(If you’re wondering why I used the photo of Neil Armstrong up above, I’m inspired by what we accomplished in the 1960’s to put people on the moon. And also by Armstrong’s statement as he stepped onto the moon: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” It’s time for companies to move beyond the (not quite so small) steps they been taking in their own operations, and help us all take a giant leap for all mankind.)

Written by

Climate warrior. Former Green Energy Czar at Google and Director of Sustainability at Facebook. Committed to a low-carbon future the works for everyone.

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