The Good, The Bad, and the Corporate: Our Intern Takes on Climate Week

The 14th annual Climate Week NYC hosted an enormous array of business leaders, politicians, and activists, offering something for everyone. Our intern gives her impressions.

By Kathleen King

October 12, 2022

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As an intern who has only worked in the climate field for a few months, I was thrilled by the opportunity to attend Climate Week. I spent weeks sifting through the never-ending list of events on the official website. What could I attend in person? What was I even qualified to attend – several events were invite-only or directed to leaders in business or government. I had two main fears as I entered this environment: first, that the events would be inaccessible for someone like myself, whose knowledge about the crisis is still expanding. Second, as a member of the last generation who can solve the climate crisis, I worried that I would be disappointed, met with the same false promises and greenwashing I see elsewhere.

Sponsors for good or for profit?

Browsing the website, I found my greatest disappointment in Climate Week – the sponsor list. One of the event’s top sponsors, McKinsey, has misleadingly asserted that it will cost $9 trillion per year to solve the climate crisis, making the issue seem insurmountable. Beyond McKinsey’s sustainability consulting errors, the company has been associated with numerous unethical controversies, including making more than $20 million from doing consulting work for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Further down the sponsor list sits Johnson & Johnson as well as Nike. While both companies have made progress in regard to sustainability, both have also historically disregarded ethics and human rights. Johnson & Johnson’s horrific role in the opioid epidemic and Nike’s long (and very recent) history of sweatshops and child labor are the first things that come to mind when I think of these companies.

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These choices in sponsorship on the part of Climate Group, however, could be the result of a generational divide.

For me, the climate crisis is all about intersectionality. Johnson & Johnson destroying communities across the country with opioids and Nike’s abuse of children in Southeast Asia (and more recent reports of suspected forced labor) are as pressing as the climate crisis and unavoidably intertwined. Sustainability solutions should be all-encompassing, addressing the rights of workers and consumers while moving towards sustainable practices. Companies like McKinsey can make a fortune off the climate crisis while marketing “Oil & Gas'' consulting that claims to make big oil “sustainable.”

Events did not disappoint

Apart from the issue of who Climate Group receives its funding from, the events I attended were fantastic, relieving my initial concerns.

The first event I attended was Up2Us2022, hosted and organized by The New York Society for Ethical Culture. The event was led by youth climate activist Xiye Bastida, a Mexican and indigenous youth climate activist who co-founded Re-Earth Initiative. Bastida introduced and interviewed leaders from all sectors of the climate movement, including journalists Ginger Zee and Mark Hertsgaard, and the leaders of numerous climate organizations, notably Jojo Mehta of Stop Ecocide International and Julia Jackson of Grounded.

These conversations covered topics of media coverage, ecocide, intersectionality, and why the climate crisis is a matter of children's rights. It was both thrilling and relieving to see a group of people diverse in age speaking about the climate crisis in a way that addressed the effects of climate change on women of color, indigenous people, and nature so thoroughly.

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Another remarkable event I attended was organized by Women & Climate, which hosted a wide array of women-led businesses whose primary missions involve sustainability, followed by a panel of women in the climate field, including our co-founder, Elizabeth Landau. I really enjoyed speaking with each local business, learning more about their missions, and finding sustainable products and services I had never heard of.

The panel hosted women from various organizations and businesses. GreenPortfolio was featured on a panel about climate action, “From Global Organizations to Individual Choices.” Leaders from Streetlife Ventures, Peaceboat US, and Pantys spoke alongside Elizabeth on topics ranging from the lack of transparency in ESG ratings to the process of improving sustainability methods within a clothing company.

The final event I attended, “Protecting the Northern Forest: Why the Boreal is Critical to Saving the Planet,” was hosted by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Manish Bapna, NRDC’s president, moderated a conversation between the Grand Chief of the Cree Nation, Mandy Gull-Masty, and Kate Ogden from Seventh Generation Inc., the American company known for its sustainable cleaning and home products.

The discussion was captivating, the main topic being the preservation of the boreal forests on Cree territories in Canada. In 2019, NRDC published The Issue with Tissue, a report on the tissue industry and its destruction of land, including the boreal forests, “ of the most ecologically important forests in the world.” Since then, NRDC has published a yearly tissue scorecard (see the 2022 scorecard here) ranking tissue products that are most and least harmful to the environment. The conversation exhibited that indigenous people and practices can and should be involved in these larger conversations.

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Relief for climate anxiety

Climate week was ultimately rejuvenating. Like the rest of my generation, I am often weighed down by climate anxiety. A week spent around people who have dedicated their lives to solving this crisis was both inspiring and reassuring. As a college student, it felt nerve-wracking to enter networking spaces full of people who have been fighting this crisis far longer than I have, but I was welcomed with encouragement and new connections. I was hesitant to buy in when I saw that the list of sponsors was tainted by organizations that have profited off of climate destruction and will now profit off of the solution, but the people I met and the organizations I learned about eased my doubts. If McKinsey’s money is what it takes to build a platform large enough to connect actual climate activists then I guess that will have to do for now.

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