In summary

Supporters of a bill reintroduced this year requiring large corporations to disclose their carbon emissions argue it will empower consumers, disrupt greenwashing and help spotlight sustainable companies for others to model.

Guest Commentary written by

Brianna McGuire

Brianna McGuire

Brianna McGuire is a plant pathologist and climate organizer. She is the secretary of UPTE-CWA 9119 Local 6 and serves on the Berkeley Environment and Climate Commission. She is on the political team of Sunrise’s Bay Area hub.

Charles Kieser

Charles Kieser

Charles Kieser is an independent artist and writer based in San Francisco. He is on the communications team of Sunrise’s Bay Area hub.

In January, state Sen. Scott Wiener introduced the Climate Corporate Data Accountability Act, a first-in-the-nation measure that would require all companies doing business in California with over $1 billion in revenue to report all of their carbon emissions to the public.

Transparency matters. This disclosure would make it harder for polluting companies to pretend that they have been benevolent actors, and easier for the public to hold them accountable for their failures. 

Senate Bill 253 is a major step to combating corporate greenwashing, which is a major obstacle to tackling the climate crisis. Most greenhouse gas emissions are released by corporations – in fact, 71% of historic emissions can be traced to just 100 corporations

Not only that, some corporations brazenly gaslight the public about it. Fossil fuel companies deliberately misled the public about the effects of burning fossil fuels and lied about their own (accurate) predictions of rising temperatures, delaying climate action. Nowadays, fossil fuel companies engage in greenwashing when the spotlight is on them, only to walk back their promises to reduce their pollution when they fade from the news.

Polluting corporations often reassure the public that they’re reducing emissions without actually doing anything, making it difficult to distinguish the corporations only claiming to improve their practices from the ones actually doing so.

Learn more about legislators mentioned in this story

Scott Wiener

Scott Wiener

State Senate, District 11 (San Francisco)

Scott Wiener

State Senate, District 11 (San Francisco)

How he voted 2021-2022
Liberal Conservative
District 11 Demographics

Voter Registration

Dem 62%
GOP 7%
No party 25%
Campaign Contributions

Sen. Scott Wiener has taken at least $904,000 from the Finance, Insurance & Real Estate sector since he was elected to the legislature. That represents 13% of his total campaign contributions.

Youth social movements such as #JustStopOil and #FridaysforFuture, transit and environmental justice activists, and divestment campaigns show that people want stronger action by institutions and corporations to prevent the worst effects of climate change. Some institutions, like the state of California, have made a $54 billion climate investment over five years, and the Inflation Reduction Act made a down payment on federal climate action for the next decade. Many corporations actively supported the Inflation Reduction Act, even though it paid for climate investments by raising the corporate tax rate.

It’s time for all corporations to move towards action and accountability as well.

SB 253 would enable transparency at an institutional level, and allow regulators to take notice of the worst polluters while allowing businesses already tracking or reducing their emissions (and there are quite a few!) to highlight their sustainable practices. Emissions reporting under SB 253 would follow an internationally-accepted standardized process, meaning it wouldn’t be difficult or expensive for billion-dollar corporations to implement. Companies that already report all of their emissions through the international Greenhouse Gas Protocol could just copy over their existing reports.

SB 253 wouldn’t only be for wonks in Sacramento, either. It makes individual-level climate choices easier. When folks know which corporations are polluting more than others, they can vote with their wallets more easily. Younger workers seek shared values with their employer, so people with job mobility seeking a sustainable place to work can do so. ESG funds will have even greater visibility into the companies that are least dependent on fossil fuel infrastructure, providing greater security to those investing in the growing low-carbon economy. 

This legislation will also help strengthen social bonds. Most people have a low and declining sense of trust in business leaders, according to the Pew Research Center. Reversing the tide of misinformation coming from corporations about their emissions and requiring accountability will help rebuild flagging trust in institutions, which is necessary for both climate action and a healthy democracy.

There are no downsides to increased corporate accountability, especially where climate change is concerned. Corporations are responsible for the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions, and corporate action is absolutely necessary to reduce future emissions and improve the lives of ordinary people. If corporations are not able to hold themselves accountable, then the public will need to do it instead.

Some of the world’s largest companies, including fossil fuel producers, are some of the biggest polluters on the planet. SB 253 would require California companies that make at least $1 billion in annual revenue to report their emissions each year. Free-market proponents say the bill would lead to higher costs for consumers and fail to achieve the transparency it seeks.

more commentary on senate bill 253

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