Photographer: Wolfgang Kaehler/LightRocket via Getty Images
Today, most companies disclose the environmental impact of their operations, even when they’re not required to by law. But corporate climate policies, and how hard companies fight for them, may be even more influential than carbon dioxide emissions. A new report has come up with a way of quantifying which companies are trying hardest to push for or against policies that would lead to less pollution.
The analysts are trying to simplify a tricky problem. By definition, people and companies with influence and power have more leverage than other individuals to change public policy. This power is notoriously difficult to quantify. People or institutions “have” or “hold” power, but not the way they have or hold physical objects such as pencils or cupcakes. Power can “flow” away from these people and over to those people, but not the way that hydrologists calculate the moving volume of a river.
The report, Corporate Carbon Policy Footprint, relies on three main factors to score how companies act in the public arena. The first captures whether a company’s policy and behavior are aligned with—or against—approaches consistent with the Paris Agreement, the international accord to slow climate change supported by all nations except Syria, Nicaragua and the U.S. An “engagement intensity” score reflects how much effort a company puts into supporting its positions. The last metric assumes that political clout follows economic scale and is a function of revenue, profits, market capitalization and assets-owned.
The final “Carbon Policy Footprint” score conflates all this information into one number, so that companies can be more easily compared to each other. In conducting their research, authors assembled more than 30,000 “pieces of evidence” related to 250 companies and 50 trade associations, including lobbying records, advertising, public relations and sponsored research.
Of the 50 companies with the most extreme scores, 35 actively oppose climate policy and 15 actively promote it. The authors note that the period since the December 2015 Paris accords has seen increased corporate activity in public climate policy debates.