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Speak up, over the applause, please

The annual Ceres conference always fills me with a combination of worry and hope. Last week’s event marked the 20th anniversary gathering for this group of environmentalists and investors to call for the integration of sustainability into capital markets. This is, in part, a cause for concern: two decades and still no cap on emissions or mandates for improved social and environmental governance. Still, with a new administration in Washington, there is a sense of unprecedented opportunity.

This opportunity will pass us by if we don’t speak with a clear voice. While moderating a panel on sustainable capitalism, Stephen Davis from the Yale School of Management provided a telling anecdote. Recounting his trip to D.C. for the inauguration, he told the story of the jumbotrons broadcasting the proceedings for the millions of assembled onlookers. Each screen provided subtitles beneath the live feed. At one point during the proceedings, George Bush’s name was mentioned. When a roar of boos erupted from the audience, the subtitle on the screens read: “Applause.”

With so many voices clamoring for attention in the climate debate, will environmentalists’ message get through to political leaders? How often do you hear the rallying cry from those opposed to climate change legislation that it will be “bad for business” or that it will “destroy shareholder value”?

Ceres has done a commendable job building a coalition of businesses and investors who are delivering a different message to Washington. The recently formed BICEP coalition is a growing membership of consumer products companies who are coming out in support of meaningful energy and climate change legislation. Aspen Ski Company, Clif Bar, and Seventh Generation are the most recent additions to a growing list of companies that includes Nike, Sun, eBay, Gap, and Starbucks. These companies are forward thinking enough to realize that climate change is a threat to themselves, their customers, and their suppliers, whether they be coffee growers or ski enthusiasts.

It is our responsibility as citizens of this country and this planet to be sure that our voice is heard as key pieces of climate and energy policy are debated on the Hill in the coming months. The last thing we can afford to do is have the opposing legislators read “applause” when we have a majority of the country out there calling for meaningful legislation on climate change.

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