Ethical Performance
inside intelligence for responsible business


US firms will take up Kyoto baton

May 2001

Signs are emerging that some big US companies are willing to take a lead on global warming by working towards Kyoto Protocol targets – despite president George Bush’s refusal to back them.

Delegates at a major US conference on business and the environment last month heard corporate representatives say that they were prepared to set the pace on tackling climate change even though Bush was not promoting the protocol. Some openly criticised Bush for what they saw as his failure to take the problem seriously.

Harry Kraemer, chief executive of pharmaceuticals company Baxter International, said many US businesses, including his own, had already made too many commitments on sustainability to turn back. ‘If the government was behind this push then that would be great, but we don’t have to wait for anybody to do what we want,’ he said. ‘That’s where business leadership comes in.

‘At Baxter we have guidelines to reduce our energy consumption by at least 40 per cent over the next four years and that’s what we will do.’

Kraemer argued that US companies which did not begin to reduce greenhouse emissions and look at alternative sources of fuel would soon become uncompetitive, especially if European businesses were being pushed by regulation.

Coca-Cola said: ‘While the ratification of international treaties should be left to national political processes, by focusing our own efforts on reducing greenhouse emissions, we hope to provide an example of how businesses can operate in an environmentally sustainable manner.’

Kenneth Lewis, president of Bank of America, the third largest bank in the US, said his company would also push ahead regardless of Bush’s stance. He went further and implicitly criticized the president: ‘We will begin taking a concerted approach to give our opinion to public officials in the new Administration and you will start to see us making public statements about global warming and the inability of countries to come together to meet that issue’, he said.

Delegates at the annual conference of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Economies (CERES) in Atlanta also heard speakers from non-governmental organizations claim that frustration at the president’s decision on Kyoto had persuaded them to work much more closely with business.

‘NGOs are now looking outside Washington to find companies to work with,’ said Howard Ris, executive director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. ‘They know many businesses have promised to clean up their facilities and that they will not be moving from those pledges whatever Bush has said.’

CERES executive director Bob Massie said corporate members of his organization, who include Ford and General Motors, were prepared to lead a non-governmental push on climate change. ‘Things have gone past governments and into mechanisms like CERES,’ he said.

CERES is a coalition of US companies, investors and NGOs committed to improving the environmental performance of business.

The greatest level of corporate opposition to climate change measures in the US is generally assumed to come from oil companies.

However, Bill Hare, who is Greenpeace’s US climate policy director, said even some large oil businesses had told him they supported Kyoto measures.

Greenpeace has tried to gauge corporate support for Kyoto by sending letters to the chief executives of 100 large companies asking them if they support its ratification. It will make the results public soon.


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