With CEOs, politicians and foreign leaders continuing to blitz social media denouncing President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement, some experts are betting a wave of pro-environment advertising directed at consumers is likely to follow.
Although corporate statements have been aimed primarily at the business press, “companies should be communicating with consumers about these environmental issues,” says Aaron Pickering, VP/corporate responsibility and reputation at Cone Communications. Companies have invested heavily in increasing their sustainability efforts, “and people care about the environment. It’s not a question of whether you’re perceived as a nature-loving brand or not. Consumers are concerned, and they want the brands they interact with to prove they care, too.”
In fact, he says, you could argue that brands can’t afford not to take a position. Public opinion overwhelmingly favors working to protect the planet. Seven out of 10 people believe the U.S. should remain in the Paris agreement, according to a U.S. News and World Report poll taken after the election, and just 13% oppose the accord. It also found that a majority of people in each of the 50 states support the agreement.
But after the first wave of A-list CEOs blasted the move -- including those from GE, Apple, Tesla, Google, and Disney -- many of the companies that reacted to Trump’s move are inherently “green” brands. Patagonia wasted no time sharing its chagrin, tweeting out a #WeAreStillIn hashtag across its social networks, for example, while REI took to Facebook to call it “a sad day.” And brands best known for sustainability, including Method, Seventh Generation, and Annie’s Homegrown, also told followers how disappointed they are in the decision.
But the news that some 100 companies have already reportedly joined in the Michael Bloomberg-led independent pledge to meet the U.S.’s emission standards shows how broad the climate concerns are. “And many of these CEOs are tweeting from their company’s main [social media] handles,” Pickering says.
A big part of the anger and rapid pushback from businesses, he says, is that sustainability is a critical part of the way leading companies do business. “This isn't about being altruistic. This is the way they make money, with 48% of the Fortune 500 having at least one climate or clean energy target.” And many companies recognize that without better stewardship of agricultural resources, they’ll lack the raw materials they need to stay in business. Apparel brands, like VF Corp., which uses about 1% of the world’s cotton, and Levi Strauss & Co., for example, have been strong proponents of staying with the Paris Agreement.
But perhaps the biggest reason brands will become increasingly vocal about environmental support, despite Trump’s “America First” efforts, is that global businesses must deal with world consumers who are even more environmentally aware than Americans—and angry at the decision to back out.
Meanwhile, at least one brand is trying to make consumers laugh about the climate news. Ben & Jerry’s gave its home page to a post called “6 Reasons Pulling Out of the Paris Climate Agreement Was Totally, Definitely the Right Move.” Items include “We’re Sick of Chocolate and Vanilla Anyway,” proclaiming its readiness to move on to such new ingredients as “melted glaciers, penguin meat, covfefe, and human despair.”