Facebook's former sustainability chief now helping staff pressure corporates on climate

Facebook's former sustainability director and Google's former clean energy czar Bill Weihl has launched a new venture aimed at helping staff at corporates press their employers for more ambitious climate action.

Weihl launched the new venture on Saturday (22 February). Image: ClimateVoice

Weihl launched the new venture on Saturday (22 February). Image: ClimateVoice

Weihl, who served at Google from 2006 to 2011, then Facebook from 2012 to 2018, launched the new venture – ClimateVoice – this weekend.

ClimateVoice provides a digital platform whereby employees at any US-based corporate or students at any US-based university can sign a pledge calling on their organisation to set climate targets in line with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C strategy.

The pledge pressures recipient organisations to address not only their direct (Scope 1 and 2) emissions, but their indirect (Scope 3) emissions and their investments.

Recipient organisations are also asked to lobby their national, federal or state governments to set 1.5C-aligned policies, so that the low-carbon transition is not only made easier for them, but for the private sector as a whole.

On the latter, ClimateVoice is set to launch a string of communications campaigns calling for specific policy changes across the US later this year. The campaigns will consist of traditional and digital advertising – including a social media campaign under the #AllInOnClimate hashtag– and be bolstered by a calendar of in-person demonstrations.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of the ClimateVoice launch, Weihl confirmed the venture will be a volunteer effort in the first instance. He plans to hire staff in the coming months.

Speaking to edie recently, Weihl told of how he believed that internal sustainability actions by corporates – no matter how ambitious – would not ultimately bring about a 1.5C world without changes to policy.

He argued that, in order for businesses to be classed as sustainability leaders this decade – a time which has been dubbed a “decade of deliverance” against the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals – they will need to become “upstanders”; vocal lobbyists for a socially equitable transition to a carbon-free world.

“Corporations tend to want not to lobby for regulation, particularly frameworks which will affect other sectors, because they worry that those sectors will then lobby for regulation which will have a detrimental impact on them, and they worry about political blowback,” he said.

“There’s a general feeling of ‘let’s not have regulation, let’s allow business and the market to solve problems instead’. I think that’s an important part of a solution, but for something as big as climate, I don’t think it’ll get us there fast enough without smart regulation.”

In addition to leading ClimateVoice, Weihl plans to continue his membership to the board of directors for the Sierra Club Foundation – an environmental non-profit focused on grassroots advocacy and philanthropic giving to education and conservation organisations. Weihl also sits on the board of employee engagement platform WeSpire and the advisory council for the California Institute of Technology’s Resnick Sustainability arm.  

Employee uprising

The launch of ClimateVoice is timely, given that high-profile cases of employee activism on climate at Amazon and Google are ongoing.

In 2018, a group of staff at Amazon launched ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ – a campaign criticising Amazon for failing to set a deadline for its target of sourcing 100% renewable energy, first announced in 2014. The campaign also called for Amazon to set a 1.5C science-based target, complete with a roadmap.

These calls to action ultimately resulted in Amazon to commit to net-zero operations by 2040 and to deadline its 100% renewable energy ambitions at 2030.

But this wasn’t the end of the environmental controversies for Amazon – the e-commerce giant was then accused of threatening to fire ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ members who spoke negatively of their employer externally. 

In response to these claims, Amazon said it had updated its policy and processes in a bid to “make it easier for employees to participate in external activities such as speeches, media interviews, and use of the company's logo."

As for Google, the tech giant recently saw its technical programme manager Bruce Hahne resign, citing concerns over the firm’s climate commitments as a primary reason for leaving. In a public letter to Google last month, Hahne criticised Google for selling its AI and cloud technologies to the fossil fuel sector, in contrast to its own internal climate commitments.

Hahne’s letter builds on months of activism from more than 1,000 of Google’s staff who, last November, began a campaign urging their employer to cancel contracts with fossil fuel firms and the halt donations to climate change deniers.

Readers keen to find out more on this topic are encouraged to read edie’s latest guest blog from Forster Communications’ CEO Amanda Powell-Smith, entitled: ‘Chief executives need to embrace employee activists’. You can read that blog in full here.

Sarah George  



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