CEOs’ Post Paris Protocol: Flight or Fight?

On a bridge overlooking a major highway, Connecticut residents protest President Trump’s decision

Within hours of President Trump’s decision to drop out of the Paris Agreement, Tesla’s Elon Musk and Disney’s Bob Iger had responded in kind—dropping out of their seats on the administration’s business council. Pouncing on the news, mainstream media outlets clearly hoped for a mass exodus with more of the many CEOs who had vocally opposed the exit following suit. When it didn’t come, pressure began to mount.

On Friday, a New York Times article, “Why Are These CEOs Still Standing With Trump on Climate?” called out CEOs for failing to “distance themselves” by remaining on the president’s business council. But quitting Team Trump in a huff won’t solve anything, noted several remaining council members who publicly protested the decision, but pledged to keep the dialogue going.

“I don’t believe in stepping off of these types of councils just because I disagree with something—and I do disagree with this decision,” Mark Weinberger, chairman and CEO of EY, told Chief Executive. “I believe that business has the responsibility to be at the table. Some things we will lose on and other things we will have a big impact on. Being there doesn’t mean you are defending everything that is being done. But not being there, to me, is a copout.”

“I believe that business has the responsibility to be at the table. …Being there doesn’t mean you are defending everything that is being done. But not being there, to me, is a copout.”

Staying, in other words, does not equate to sanctioning. Dow Chemical Chairman & CEO Andrew Liveris, who was one of the principal drivers of a letter signed by 31 CEOs that sought (unsuccessfully) to dissuade the president from exiting the Paris Agreement, also opted to stay on the council and push for measures that would remediate climate change from within.

“While we are disappointed in the decision to withdraw the United States from its commitments in the Paris Climate Agreement, we understand there are always many potential solutions to challenges and are eager to work toward alternative solutions,” said Liveris. “We will continue to collaborate with President Trump as well as other businesses, NGOs and academics to continue to advocate for smart policies that enable the reduction of global greenhouse gas emissions and ensure that global markets stay open to American exports and innovation.

Scores of prominent business executives echoed these sentiments, taking to Twitter to publicly and definitively voice their displeasure with President Trump’s decision. Many—Apple’s Tim Cook, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Sundar Pichai, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff among them—went on to pledge commitment to policies to address climate change.

Bloomberg’s Michael Bloomberg stepped up to the plate in a big way, pledging $15 million toward alleviating the impact of the policy shift, a move that underscored the sentiment expressed by GE CEO Jeff Immelt’s tweet, “Industry must now lead and not depend on government.”

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As editor-at-large at Chief Executive magazine, Jennifer Pellet writes feature stories and CEO roundtable coverage and also edits various sections of the publication.

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