“Strike for climate action” was the watchword coming not from the shop steward, but the C-suite as many companies publicized their support for a mobilization on Friday, but positioning to capture consumers that is not translated into action carries risks.
While the movement might not be massive, it is global: Around the world, companies have gone public and associated themselves with Friday’s global climate protests and those scheduled for Friday next week.
For example, US outdoor clothing company Patagonia Inc has widely publicized its decision to close its 107 stores on both days to encourage its employees to participate in the events.
“We’re on strike in solidarity with the youth-led global climate strike for a better future and climate justice for everyone,” said the website for SodaStream International Ltd, the Israeli-based home soda system maker now owned by PepsiCo Inc. “We’ll be back on September 21st.”
In Germany, 2,400 firms have joined under the banner of “Entrepreneurs for Future.”
Employees of companies such as Zalando SE, Delivery Hero SE and FlixMobility GmbH were marching in suit and tie to demonstrate the support of the business world.
Popular organic supermarket chain operator Alnatura Produktions und Handels GmbH was operating with skeleton crews.
Companies are coming under “pressure from both citizens, who have never been as concerned about environmental questions, as well as consumers, who are demanding that firms assume their responsibilities in the larger ecosystem,” said Guenaelle Gault, head of the Society and Consumption Observatory, a Paris-based research and consultancy firm.
Employees are also putting pressure on their employers: Nearly 1,700 Amazon.com Inc employees joined demonstrations on Friday.
“As employees at one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world, our role in facing the climate crisis is to ensure our company is leading on climate, not following,” they said in a strike petition. “We have to take responsibility for the impact that our business has on the planet and on people.”
Jeff Bezos, CEO of the online retail and technology behemoth, which was recently singled out by Greenpeace for its carbon emissions, on Thursday pledged to make its operations carbon neutral by 2040.
Meanwhile, Google on Thursday announced a record-high boost to its green electricity purchases, after having become in 2017 the first firm of its size to offset its entire annual electricity consumption with renewable energy sources.
If these companies “open the floodgates, they then have to take real engagements, for example canceling existing commercial contracts, which rapidly becomes very complicated,” Gault said.
Heavily polluting companies in the energy and industrial sectors have been more discrete about the climate strikes, even if Swedish truck and bus manufacturer Scania AB dedicated Friday to employee training on sustainability.
“There is a form of schizophrenia in joining the march without supporting the movement” with action, something which could pose problems for companies “whose environmental footprint can’t easily be shrunk,” public relations specialist Jean-Christophe Alquier said.
However, he said that he sees a “formidable marketing platform” in the strikes for companies wanting to show they have taken on board the need to take action on the climate.
Yet, “there is risk as the demand for change is very strong in a situation where there is lots of mistrust of these actors,” Gault said. “Companies can’t settle for just ‘greenwashing.’”
The movement’s organizers are on the lookout for companies just looking for marketing opportunities.
“To change everything, we need everyone,” said Clemence Dubois of the activist group 350.
“So many big companies coming out in support of the strikes shows that it is now impossible to turn away from the climate crisis, but of course, actions prove louder than words,” she said.
“The next step will be for major corporations to do so, by redirecting finance and changing their practices,” she added.
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