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Ex-Facebook exec starts group to help employees push companies on climate

by Reuters
Monday, 24 February 2020 05:01 GMT

FILE PHOTO: Young people protest outside the San Francisco Federal Building during a climate strike march in San Francisco, U.S. September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kate Munsch

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ClimateVoice will seek to organize and amplify climate activism among tech employees to push executives to lobby on behalf of legislative efforts around climate, says founder

By Dan Levine

SAN FRANCISCO, Feb 24 (Reuters) - Facebook's former sustainability chief has launched an organization to help employees at big companies press their bosses for more aggressive policies to fight climate change.

Hundreds of companies have committed to reducing emissions in their own operations to be in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which governments aim to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius.

Beyond their own operations, however, many companies have refrained from advocating for broader solutions needed to avoid a global catastrophe, said Bill Weihl, who led sustainability efforts at Facebook and Google and will head the new organization, ClimateVoice.

Employees at tech companies have objected to selling cloud services to Big Oil, and companies are reticent to exert lobbying influence on behalf of specific legislation.

"When it's an issue that might be really important for society but doesn't directly affect them, by and large most companies are silent most of the time," said Weihl, who left Facebook in 2018.

ClimateVoice is launching as a volunteer effort but aims to raise funds and hire staff soon after launch. Weihl said it will seek to organize and amplify climate activism among tech employees to push executives to lobby on behalf of legislative efforts around climate.

Workers have become a key constituency in the climate change debate, particularly at the biggest tech companies. Microsoft and Amazon announced more ambitious emissions targets after employees ultimately made their concerns publicly known.

Bruce Hahne resigned as a technical program manager at Google this month and criticized the company in a public letter for selling technology to the energy sector to more efficiently produce fossil fuels -- echoing concerns raised by workers at Amazon and Microsoft.

"We're dying by fire, and the Google Cloud oil and gas sales vertical is pouring on the gasoline," Hahne wrote.

Google respresentatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ClimateVoice initially intends to advocate for legislation at the U.S. state and regional levels, instead of the U.S. Congress. The group could be useful in providing employees with a list of policy priorities to raise with their bosses, Hahne told Reuters. It could also help bring together workers at different companies, who could work together on proposed bills with less fear of management retaliation.

"ClimateVoice is going to need to design sets of tactical behaviors that work well with cultures of the organizations, and that are safe," Hahne said. (Reporting by Dan Levine; Editing by Greg Mitchell and David Gregorio)

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