Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP) is the foremost coalition of companies advancing energy and climate legislation in the US. A project of Ceres, BICEP convenes 34 member companies that advocate a low-carbon economy as a path to create jobs and stimulate growth. In less than two years, over 1,200 businesses have signed BICEP’s Climate Declaration, which describes the battle against climate change as “one of America’s greatest economic opportunities.”
We spoke with Anne Kelly, Senior Program Director of BICEP, about the group’s recent accomplishments and the plan to flex its advocacy muscles in 2015.
There are a number of ways companies could choose to influence public policy on climate and energy. Why has BICEP emerged as the leading platform?
I think it dates back to 2008 when we first launched BICEP. Ceres stood out as a nonprofit that was willing to put the companies’ interests first. For many years, Ceres really highlighted leadership. We put forth companies that were already walking the talk; they already had strong sustainability platforms. At the time of BICEP’s founding, it was Nike, Starbucks, Timberland, Levi Strauss & Co. and Sun Micro Systems. We were already a magnet for leadership companies — companies that really had a sense of vision, that really wanted to be on the right side of history, that were tracking the sustainability movement and living by it. So when Ceres decided to establish a public policy stream of work, I think many people were drawn to it. We have 34 companies in BICEP, but have a much larger network of companies that want to go through Ceres in order to become engaged in public policy. So I think probably we had some credibility before we went public, so to speak.
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Ceres started in 1989 by some thoughtful investors who felt it was important for investors to be active in the companies they own, and be scrutinizing of the behavior of the companies. On the heels of the Exxon Valdez spill, they felt strongly that investors should really call for responsible behavior on the part of the companies in which they invest. And that notion at that time was fairly new — it was right in the thick of the Apartheid era. So Ceres was probably the first organization to bring together investors, leading companies, as well as environmental NGOs into one for constructive dialogue. Now there are many organizations in this space, but I think we were probably the first.
How would you describe the ultimate goal of BICEP’s legislative advocacy? Is there an ideal future when its work will be complete?
Yes, actually. I suppose implementation will always be ongoing, but BICEP is really working toward meaningful climate and energy policy at the state, federal and global level. When we are able to get a price on carbon in some way, shape or form, BICEP’s work will certainly have gone a very long way. When we have robust state energy policy that is customized to individual states and regions and really enhances the federal effort to bring down emissions, we will have gone a long way.
And we’ve certainly seen accomplishments along the way. This has been a productive year, the US will be able to hold its head up high in Paris [at the COP21 meeting] and we’re thrilled about that, given the initiatives of this President, his overall Climate Change Action Plan, and the EPA Clean Power Plan. So BICEP is really looking to see the federal government take action, and as a result, to be a real negotiating partner with real credibility in Paris in December.
The growing recognition that economic opportunity is embedded in the solution; that enough companies saw through their own experience that if they save energy through energy efficiency they actually save money, if they develop an internal shadow price on carbon they can actually use that as a cost savings measure. If they purchase renewable energy, they can get long-term price predictability and stability as well as the reputational benefits that come with that, and they could just save money. And I’ve heard many companies tell me this equation. One major US Fortune 500 read the declaration and said, well, ‘this is Mom and Apple Pie, who couldn’t agree with this? Of course, tackling climate change is one of the greatest economic opportunities of the 21st century.’
I think what’s also contributed to it is a little bit of customization, that three states [California, Oregon, Washington] took the Declaration on and crafted their own preambles.
The last year is important for a number of reasons, and it’s important that people have observed strong action on the part of EPA and they have stayed in the game. Administrative regulation is not always zealously popular, but I think in this case, the EPA’s Clean Power Plan really did its homework in terms of outreach and public discussions, and really listening to the individual needs of a variety of states. And also reaching out to the business community in particular. It’s very exciting that the rules were put forward last June, and that they were commented on so vigorously — I think there’s over 3 million comments. We’re looking forward to those being finalized in July. Also, no one missed the significance of the US-China climate deal. I can’t say enough about how significant that was to be able to move the top two emitters in the world to come to an agreement. To really get the Chinese to make the kinds of commitments that they did was substantial. I think that’s also bolstered people’s confidence — it sends a signal that the US is serious about this, and that continuing to invest in the low-carbon economy makes sense and will have a return associated with it.
All that, I think, has bolstered corporate and investor confidence to take action and stand up in a public policy realm. The final thing is that many states have also taken action and are continuing to pursue renewable energy, to look at new power sector business models, and to adopt more rigorous renewable portfolio standards, which we also support.
While some congressional politicians have publicly lauded BICEP’s work, opposition to measures such as a carbon tax remains. Have you observed a trend in bi-partisan support for climate action?
Publicly, climate change has fallen victim to the partisan divide that characterizes so many fundamental issues that need to be acted upon, and that’s unfortunate. But what we know privately and behind closed doors is that there are many constructive conversations going on among hardworking Congressional staffers and many policy makers who would really like to see some kind of action and very much have in mind the stakes that we’re facing in Paris.
Increasingly, the tables are starting to turn. Now, the problem is we still have this massive partisan divide and with the new majority in Congress, it’s certainly not making President Obama’s job easy. But it’s too simplistic to suggest it’s going to be an all out war between Obama and Congress — there are many, many cross currents. The rise of the renewable energy industry and its cost effectiveness — the fact that prices have come down so significantly — is changing the view of many lawmakers as they look back at their own states and see the profitability of wind in a place like Iowa, for example. So there definitely is change going on, and constructive conversations are going on, but those are behind the scenes. It will be a while before we see many in Congress being able to fully embrace this problem as it is currently framed. We have to look for progress as we get closer to Paris. And it may be that there’s a scheme that a Republican lawmaker will come up with that they can get behind, that we haven’t yet seen. Also I think we have to keep our eyes on how Republican governors are handling the Clean Power Plan. We really have to look closely at those governors in the middle — not those who are fully embracing it and not those who are fully rejecting it — but those that are basically trying to make it work. That’s where I think we will see some progress.
In what ways does BICEP encourage its member companies to take concrete action on climate legislation? Are there binding requirements for BICEP members and/or signatories of the Climate Declaration?
For the Climate Declaration, companies simply need to agree to the Declaration itself; they then join the ranks of the reputable companies that are on board. They have the option of asking for further engagement and staying in the loop on our regular updates. Most companies have actually taken further follow-up action by taking part in an advocacy day, signing a letter, writing an op-ed or sending a tweet — there’s a long menu of options for Declaration signers. Some of them, of course, have elected to become actual BICEP members.
To join BICEP, companies need to have a commitment to our principles. They’re fairly non-prescriptive, and at this point are straightforward to anyone who has been thinking about the need to usher in the clean energy economy. There is a small administrative fee that BICEP companies pay, and we ask also for their logo and a statement about why they are interested in becoming an advocate in public policy. There’s a small statement that goes up on our website as well that describes the company’s relationship to sustainability. So it’s not a hugely high bar. We definitely seek out companies who are demonstrated leaders in this space. It goes without saying that companies are going to be more credible with lawmakers if they’ve actually been able to examine and make progress on their own carbon footprint and make commitments around that.
The Harvard Business Review named Ceres/BICEP’s work one of 10 most important sustainable business stories of 2014, saying a US carbon tax is “seeming possible again.” In your view, what about BICEP’s work caused it to be included on this list?
We were honored and delighted to make that list for the second year in a row. I think what is special about our work is that normally companies are expected to resist any and all rules and regulations. Many of the trade associations tend to — perhaps with the best of intentions — resist environmental law and regulation. I think that’s what is expected. It is unusual and refreshing to see companies standing up and being able to make the business case for policy, to be making such tight economic arguments around the need for proper regulation. It’s what my colleague from Starbucks, Jim Hanna, calls the “legislative guardrails,” within which companies can innovate. It’s the necessary restraint that really allows them to compete on an even playing field.
I think BICEP is also notable because we are a bipartisan organization. Many of the companies that are members could easily be considered right-of-center in their political views, and we embrace them 100 percent. We are absolutely interested in constructive, economically sound solutions, much more than we are interested in right or left. I think that’s probably unusual.
Finally, I would say the multi-sector nature of the organization contributed to it being recognized. We have companies from a variety of sectors. We have B2B companies and to all of our surprise, the Declaration was a much bugger success than we ever imagined. The message there we felt was vital, that there was actual economic opportunity in solving the problem, helps to rebut the tired notion that costs will go up if we actually do something about this. The reality is the costs of inaction are far greater than the costs of taking action in the short term.
What’s on BICEP’s agenda over the next year?
First and foremost, the support of the EPA Clean Power Plan. It needs to be finalized and put in place, and there is a vital state component to that. Encouraging states to use the building blocks of the law and to actively write effective state implementation plans will be a focus of BICEP’s work. First, it will mean just supporting the law itself — before and after it is finalized in July.
Second, assuming the administration moves on the regulation of methane, we will be getting behind that as well. We don’t know what form that is going to take at this point, but we’re absolutely in support of the pending methane regulations.
Finally, we support strong federal truck standards. This is very relevant for the BICEP members who are moving goods across the country on a regular basis. To have those trucks be far more efficient will save those companies money. Right now those big 18-wheelers tend to get about five miles to the gallon. If we can make those trucks more efficient, the contracts the companies sign will actually reveal that they’re saving money because there’ll be less fuel needed. So we support strong federal standards.
At the international level, we will support the INDC (the Intended National Determined Contribution) that the US puts out in March — but it’s better to just say the US Climate goal, the post-2020 goal that was announced in the fall as part of the US-China agreement and will be formalized in March. We will get behind that goal and talk about the feasibility of the goal and also the responsibility for companies and investors to do their part to make sure that the US meets that target. And directly or indirectly, we will be encouraging those other countries where our companies have a presence to also come up with a strong goal. That leads into the road to Paris, where we are broadly supporting the US in being a strong negotiator and taking a strong position. We are just now articulating what a strong agreement looks like. We know in the past people have said, ‘long, legal and loud.’ I don’t think we’ll paraphrase it quite like that, but we’d like to see an enforceable agreement that is effective and that will send a strong signal to businesses and investors around low carbon investment. I think that’s the key — the agreement must send a clear signal so that investors and businesses know when to act and know that their investments will be sound as they invest in renewables and energy efficiency. That’s the roundup from now until the end of December.