Think Tank Shows Big Tech’s Talk on Climate Bigger Than Its Actions

A new report from think tank InfluenceMap has revealed a relatively inconsequential sum spent by Big Tech companies like Apple and Facebook on lobbying for climate action when compared to other causes. Here’s everything you need to know.

This week saw the CEO of Mars claim that the only way to ‘truly reach net zero emissions [is] to transform the business supply chain.’ In his opinion piece for the Guardian, Grant Reid argued that to catalyse the change the planet so desperately needs to avert a total climate disaster, everyone must take responsibility.

For Reid, that ‘everyone’ includes suppliers, retailers and consumers alike. But he hasn’t shirked the responsibility his company has to reduce emissions, admitting that Mars itself emits 75% of its total emissions footprint from agriculture and land-use change alone. The company has ‘managed to cut emissions in [its] full value chain by 7.3% since 2015 despite [the] business continuing to grow. In [its] direct operations, [Mars has] already reduced emissions by nearly a third’.

While it’s great to see household names like Mars making great strides towards climate action, and the rhetoric to match it, a new report from InfluenceMap highlights that the same may not be true of Big Tech companies.

According to InfluenceMap, just 6% of a total $65 million was spent on lobbying activities aimed at climate policy this year. As rhetoric and commitments from Big Tech continue to outline the need for urgent climate action, the relatively small efforts to lobby officials could reflect an attempt to greenwash the companies instead of making vital change.

Big Tech companies are some of the most powerful businesses in the world. They make things happen – when they want things to happen. This report shows how Big Tech has refused to lift a finger to push comprehensive climate action in Congress.

Sheldon Whitehouse
US Senator


Should Big Tech Do More to Enhance Climate Action?

It’s important to note that many of the Big Tech companies have already made drastic commitments to reduce their carbon footprint. The leader of the pack, by far, is Microsoft, which is the only company from the big five (Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft itself) to commit to a carbon negative plan so far. By 2030, Microsoft aims to be carbon negative. By 2050, it aims to “remove from the environment all the carbon [it] has emitted directly or through electricity use since the company was founded in 1975.”, giving it just 20 years to remove all that carbon.

But while action like this is welcome, action on a far greater scale is needed to avert the very worst climate issues. To do that, government intervention is a necessity. And Big Tech holds considerable sway over government through its lobbying efforts.

In the past, Big Tech has lobbied on behalf of causes to do with data protection, tax and much more. Vested interests in these areas necessitated action, but lobbying to accelerate positive climate policy is yet to catch up with other, more traditional regulatory lobbying.

Commenting on the report, US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse said:
“Big Tech companies are some of the most powerful businesses in the world. They make things happen – when they want things to happen. This report shows how Big Tech has refused to lift a finger to push comprehensive climate action in Congress. That may soon change, and the best place to start is ensuring that Big Tech’s trade associations are powerful advocates for ambitious climate action.”

Ultimately, if Big Tech companies were to dedicate more money towards climate policy action, governments would accelerate their efforts to not only react to the climate emergency, but preemptively limit the extent of the damage.

What Positive Climate Action Can Business Leaders Take?

In our recent podcast panel, we invited several sustainability thought leaders to share their experiences and insights on how enterprises can reduce their carbon footprint and protect our tomorrow.

From optimising the supply chain to rolling out electric vehicles, making data centres sustainable to transforming the fast fashion industry – these are the insights you need to hear.

Why Is Inaction Such a Big Issue?

According to the recent InfluenceMap report, the degree to which Big Tech has committed to lobbying for climate action is far outweighed by the efforts of fossil fuel companies.

That’s important, because in corporate America the big five wield a lot of power with their sheer dominance of the market. So while the companies themselves may be committed to changing their behaviour, activities, and operations to reduce the impact they have on the environment, other companies are ramping up efforts to ensure whatever impact they achieve has no effect.

In other areas, a sense of pragmatism could be detected. Under the Trump administration, climate policy was either set aside or minimised – as evidenced by the withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement. But under the Biden administration, the US has re-prioritised the climate emergency. Lobbying for positive action on climate policy is no longer as much of a lost cause.

For instance, the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill also includes a significant amount of investment for climate action. But this is facing strong opposition, especially from the US Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber said it is doing “everything we can to prevent this tax raising, job killing reconciliation bill from becoming law”. Four out of five of the Big Tech companies are members of the Chamber, Apple being the only non-member.

Speaking to the Guardian, Dylan Tanner (Executive Director of InfluenceMap) said that, “These gigantic companies that completely dominate the stock market are not really deploying that political capital at all.” Noting the fact that most climate lobbying draws funding from the big oil and gas companies, he said, “Most of their political advocacy is devoted to climate change and it’s negative.”

Tanner concluded that while Big Tech has committed to change themselves, these actions aren’t enough given the scale of the crisis.

More needs to be done. Business leaders must ramp up their efforts – and none of us can wait.