Less than a decade ago, it was easy to argue sustainability and efforts to fight climate change were almost exclusively in the purview of progressives.
Times have changed.
In a relatively short amount of time, the state has seen substantial change in the way residents, businesses and elected officials view threats related to climate change — and their respective roles in solving what more than two-thirds of Americans now see as a serious threat to their health, safety and economic wellbeing.
For the past two years, Florida Politics has chronicled the sea change in the posture of Florida’s elected leadership.
As we wrote a year ago, “What began with a few GOP politicians and thought leaders has turned into a tide of Republicans urging their party to get on board with the science and start working toward solutions that both reverse the trends and reflect conservative values.”
This past week brought more proof of just how swift and wide-ranging this evolution of thought and action related to climate change has been in the state of Florida.
On Monday, in conjunction with the 5th annual National Clean Energy Week, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a proclamation recognizing this week as Clean Energy Week across Florida. The Governor noted the most recent Florida budget includes historic bipartisan-backed investments in the state’s environmental resources through the use of innovative technology and boosts clean energy infrastructure through the expansion of electric vehicle charging stations.
Local governments were quick to follow the Governor’s lead.
Florida cities big and small, including St. Petersburg and Cape Canaveral, issued their own proclamations touting their local resiliency plans.
Newspapers across the state carried an op-ed by Sen. Jason Brodeur, who posited Florida’s Republicans (more so than just about any other bloc of GOP officials in the U.S.) are in a unique position to, essentially, commandeer the policy arena around climate change and resiliency from progressives — and to do so in a bigger and better in a way that creates massive amounts of jobs and opportunity and puts Florida ahead of the curve in embracing a clean energy economy on a large scale.
“Florida Republicans are offering bold, market-driven, and conservative solutions to accelerate the adoption and deployment of clean energy across the state. If we are going to lead on the issues of climate and resiliency, then that will require increased investments in expanding clean energy and making it more accessible for more Florida homes and businesses,” he wrote.
It’s worth noting that Brodeur’s full-time job is serving as president of the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce.
Through the lens of helping residents and small businesses alike save money, he makes a business case for action: “Resiliency efforts … help protect the private property of Florida homeowners and businesses from the increased severity of storms, hurricanes, flooding, and other extreme weather emergencies. Ultimately, increasing Florida’s climate resiliency also helps lower the cost of doing business in the state by lessening the impact of these events and reducing their associated insurance costs.”
Brodeur’s perspective on sustainability-as-economic-development was further reinforced this week by actions major corporations are taking to embrace clean energy, both nationally and in Florida.
Walmart and Siemens outlined their respective plans for fast-tracking carbon neutrality as part of a webinar hosted by the Florida Race to Zero and the Chambers For Innovation and Clean Energy. Both are global brands that have large footprints and employ thousands of Floridians.
The webinar focused on the steps these companies are taking to eliminate their carbon footprints and how those actions are good for business and the communities they call home.
Eric Brewer, Walmart’s Senior Director of Public Affairs & Government Relations, talked about his company’s pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040, and described the evolution of sustainability from a “siloed” practice area to something that touches every element of Walmart’s business.
“Our sustainability effort literally lives within and across the business. It’s no longer a sort of department like, say, accounting or legal. All facets of the business are accountable and evaluated as to what is driving toward our sustainability goals,” he said.
Brie Sachse, Vice President and head of U.S. Government Affairs at Siemens, echoed that perspective and outlined how the company’s climate pledge has made its relationships with local governments, utilities and communities increasingly important.
“We’re the first global industrial company to commit to 100% carbon neutrality by 2030. That means carbon neutrality must be factored into every business decision we make, including where to site or expand facilities,” he said. “Having a local community that has a similar focus and helps us achieve our own goals is win-win for the bottom line and for the environment. It’s really motivating to see the climate and action plans coming out of the Sunshine State.”
Partnerships between brands and local and state governments are becoming increasingly important as leaders in business and government worlds have started to unlock the power of shared solutions and shared responsibility in the effort to stem the effects of climate change.
“It really is fascinating,” said Chambers for Innovation and Clean Energy Executive Director Ryan Evans. “In a state and a country that are often polarized and paralyzed by divisive politics, elected officials from both major parties are increasingly viewing efforts to fight climate change (and the corresponding work to expand the economic power of clean energy) as an issue space where they can actually agree on things and drive meaningful action.”