Washington companies see the value of using energy efficiently and shifting to low-carbon alternatives — it just makes good business sense.
AT a time in our history when politics is increasingly polarizing and divisive, we should recognize the Paris climate agreement for what it is: a victory of collaboration over brinkmanship, of inspiration over fear, and humanity over special interests. I worked directly on this issue for two decades, both in Europe and the United States, because I believed the facts would prevail, and that compassion would play a part. I am now proud to say to my two millennial children: it was not a wasted effort.
Washington companies didn’t need an international agreement to recognize the value of reducing their carbon footprints — using energy efficiently and shifting to low-carbon alternatives just makes good business sense. But policy certainty creates the clarity and stability needed for companies to make decisions and investments.
While the deal is not perfect by any means, we should celebrate this victory and consider it a mandate moving us forward in our response to the urgent issue of climate change. Nearly 200 countries of all sizes, at different levels of development, are party to the agreement. Yet in the United States, climate deniers in Congress remain bent on preserving our dependence on the dirty fuels of the past.
So while the Paris agreement sets the stage, we need leaders at the state and local level to be the actors, driving policy solutions to incentivize clean energy innovation and account for the true cost of carbon pollution on our economy and communities.
Here in Washington, that’s playing to our strength.
The nation sees Washington as a leader on technology innovation, home to ideas that have transformed everything from aviation and software to energy efficiency and renewable power. As we transition to a low-carbon economy, Washington businesses are prepared to lead the way, creating jobs and wealth by developing, deploying and exporting new low-carbon technologies, services and solutions.
Taking decisive policy action now will give Washington businesses a durable and competitive advantage in the future. Smart clean energy and climate policies create the conditions that enable innovative companies to invest, grow and thrive.
While at Nike, I was involved in significant sustainability efforts, starting with the elimination of a potent greenhouse gas from our footwear-making process. Early on, the company discovered that a low-carbon constraint didn’t have dire consequences, but led to innovation, and in turn to revenue growth. Nike believed then (and understands now) that effective policy is key to unleashing investment in the low-carbon economy.
Some have said the Paris agreement marks the beginning of the end for fossil fuels. I would argue that the end has been coming for some time, and the agreement will be a great way to accelerate it. Other entities, operating with substantial support from the oil and gas industries, claim to represent business interests and suggest Washington is doing enough to address climate impacts — that no further action by the state is necessary. However, we can’t expect the kind of progress envisioned through the Paris agreement by sticking our collective heads in the sand. That isn’t the Washington way.
Our state currently enjoys abundant, relatively clean electricity thanks to our hydroelectric dams. But we cannot be satisfied with the status quo when long-term models show our snowpack diminishing, taking with it too much of our hydro capacity. We need innovation now that will dramatically improve energy productivity and accelerate the use of renewable and other clean technologies.
Unleashing this creative potential requires a new policy framework and market-based incentives. The place to start is by reflecting the real price of our energy choices, which will send a signal to the market to accelerate the pace of investments in clean energy and energy efficiency.
More than 250 companies, including major Northwest brands like Microsoft and REI, have signed the Washington Business Climate Declaration calling for policies that drive energy efficiency and expand the use of clean, renewable energy. The declaration is a rolling call to action, urging the public, policymakers and other business leaders to seize the opportunity that exists for Washington to join the growing group of states, regions and countries that are investing in a low-carbon future.
Too often the conversation on addressing climate change is focused on the burden and hardship of taking action. With the historic Paris agreement as the foundation, it is time to focus on the promise and opportunity of climate action in Washington.