Showing up Matters

CapitolHill2

The C-suite at leading companies commit to lobbying on important issues

By the Editors

Job descriptions for corporate responsibility practitioners commonly include references to supply chain, community engagement and sustainability reporting.

Add lobbying to the list.

“We have our story to tell and no one can tell that story except for us,” Rachelle Reyes Wenger, Dignity Health director of public policy and community advocacy, says of the sharp uptick in lobbying lawmakers around the Affordable Care Act.  “They don’t know. It’s our job to help them understand why it matters to us.”

With a new president and Republican-controlled Congress looking at a healthcare insurance overhaul and rollbacks in environmental regulations, corporate spending on lobbying is up in the first quarter, according to watchdogs like the Center for Responsible Politics.

Pharmaceutical and healthcare giants are joined by telecommunications companies, industry trade associations and defense contractors on the list of the 10 top spenders who are working Capitol Hill.

For companies with activism as part of their core values, C-suite involvement in lobbying efforts is commonplace, says John Replogle, CEO of the Vermont-based natural cleaning products company Seventh Generation, now part of Unilever.

For others with a more reticent senior executive team, Replogle advocates a concerted effort by the corporate responsibility executive to encourage the CEO to take a stand.

“Showing up matters,” says Replogle, whose prior leadership roles include a stint at Burt’s Bees. “It takes all of us together to make positive action.”

A resident of Raleigh, North Carolina, where a state law restricted use of bathrooms to the gender listed on a person’s birth certificate, Replogle says during the Ceres conference that he was hopeful newly elected Democratic Governor Roy Cooper would remove the wedge that had damaged legislative-business relationships.

Recent lobbying by Seventh Generation currently involves legislators in California, where a proposed bill would require manufacturers of cleaning products sold in the state to disclose ingredients.

“I get a lot more value showing up in Raleigh or Sacramento or Montpelier than I do sitting at my desk and sending another email,” says Replogle.

Technology now backs up old fashioned paper petition drives and dialing campaigns, and is being used by innovative brands to quickly empower their stakeholders to speak out about their policy views in a digital fashion. Successful campaigns today mobilize grassroots advocates with new, innovative technologies. For example, in the past year outdoor wear retailer Patagonia combined old and new strategies to advocate for the preservation of the Bears Ears National Monument. The company did this because preservation of natural lands is a core tenant to their mission and their responsibility as a business, according to Jeb Ory, CEO and cofounder of Phone2Action, who worked with Patagonia on its efforts.

“While lobbying is increasing, grassroots advocacy—people raising their voices about an issue—is growing faster than ever. Traditional digital advocacy tactics like petitions and letter-writing are simply not as effective as they used to be,” he says.

Patagonia used a series of 360 Degree videos to tell the story of the monument, spoke out on social media, and used action centers stationed in their stores to give advocates the  tools to tell their lawmakers how they felt about preserving the monument. Advocates used Phone2Action to Tweet, Facebook, and call their elected officials. “This integrated campaign is an example of how advocacy works in the 21st century—leveraging both new technology and traditional tactics to tell powerful stories and engage advocates,” Ory says.

Bruno Sarda, vice president of sustainability for NRG Energy Inc. called it a “false narrative” that a power company cannot support renewable energy and says his company’s meetings with members of Congress have been productive.

“The future can’t be like the past,” he says, adding that NRG’s goal is to discuss with lawmakers the transition to a low-carbon economy so the power grid stays affordable and reliable.

“I did not encounter this ideological wall that we expected,” says Sarda. He characterized legislators as eager to receive talking points and tools to allow them to support renewable energy policies in the name of business, rather than politics.

NRG, which has committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and 90 percent by 2050 from a 2014 baseline, was one of more than 100 companies to express their support for the Paris Agreement on climate change.

 

Posted June 8, 2017 in Vol. 8 No. 3 - May/June 2017