This article is from the In-Depth Report How to Green Your Office

How Business Can Influence Climate Policy

Businesses can influence government action on climate in many ways—as long as they start by building their own environmental credibility

Several months later, when a Kansas review board denied a permit for a new coal-fired power plant, the basis of the denial was the future negative impact of the CO2. It was the first time such a denial had been issued—and the only legal basis for that denial was Massachusetts v. EPA. That a ski resort could have had anything to do with such a monumental policy shift is humbling and gratifying, to say the least. That’s why we consider the filing of this amicus brief one of the most important things we’ve ever done as a company.

The good news is that once a sound policy is in place, opportunities abound, and many of them even make money. There are hundreds of examples, most making use of existing technology and being supported by private investors and hugely wealthy venture capitalists such as Vinod Khosla and the firm Kleiner Perkins Caulfield and Byers, among many others. But the expansion and development of the right technologies won’t happen fast enough without government support. The key point is that new technology development isn’t the lever; the lever is policy that allows for the implementation of existing technology.

Forcing Leaders to Lead
Although corporations need to shoot all their efficiency and renewable energy bullets trying to reduce their own carbon footprint, it’s most important that they use their own business as a club to batter legislators with advocacy, use their influence over customers to create a grassroots movement and allocate advertising dollars to a climate campaign aimed at a broad audience. Individuals must do the same—with our votes, our pens and our feet; we must storm the barricades in the same way we drove other social transformations like civil rights or the U.S.’s exit from Vietnam. Yes, we should also screw in efficient lightbulbs, but without the delusion that such actions are enough. As noted environmentalist and Middlebury College scholar Bill McKibben says, “By all means, screw in that efficient lightbulb, but then go screw in a new senator.”

Some of our problems—civil rights was one, health care is probably another—are just too big to be solved without government’s help. In this sense, NASA climatologist James Hansen agrees with Dick Cheney who famously called individual conservation measures “a personal virtue” but not the stuff of national energy policy. Writing in the New York Review of Books, Hansen noted that a “call for people to reduce their CO2 emissions, while appropriate, oversimplifies and diverts attention from the essential requirement: government leadership. Without such leadership and comprehensive economic policies, conservation of energy by individuals merely reduces demands for fuel, thus lowering prices and ultimately promoting the wasteful use of energy.”

Hansen’s point is deceptive because it is both disempowering and empowering. What can individuals do? Perhaps reducing our own CO2, on a planetary scale, isn’t going to do much. But in the end, who is going to cause the government leadership to arise? Individuals. At Aspen Skiing Company, as with any large business or even government entity, the leaders really don’t get much direct communication from the public. If our current CEO, Mike Kaplan, were to get a dozen handwritten letters from the public on a given issue, I can guarantee we’d have a high-level meeting on the subject within a week. Imagine if there were street protests outside our building. Individuals can drive change; they always do. We need to get out in the streets, we need to bring our letters to the post office and we need to force leaders to lead.

Pressuring Other Businesses Directly
Although government action is crucial, some businesses are so big that their programs have the impact of government policies. Therefore, it’s important to crack the whip on other businesses as well.

This article was originally published with the title "Companies Pull the Climate Lever."

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