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Poll: Americans Broadly Skeptical of Climate Pledges

But they do want corporations to step up.

A BP sign.
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

From BP to Shein, businesses are promising that they’re greener than ever. But Americans are skeptical these pledges are anything but greenwashing, a term for deceptive advertising practices around sustainability that was formally added to the dictionary last year. Perhaps with good reason, too: Of 702 companies that have made net-zero targets and were scrutinized by Net Zero Tracker, two-thirds hadn’t actually offered details on how they plan to reach those goals.

A majority of Americans (64%) think corporations’ pledges around climate change are just for appearances and that they won’t stick to their promises, the inaugural Heatmap Climate Poll, published Thursday, found. But Americans do want corporations to step up: Sixty-seven percent of Americans feel that large corporations have an important role to play in mitigating the effects of global warming.

Heatmap's findings were consistent across political parties. Sixty-three percent of Democrats distrusted climate pledges, compared to 61% of Republicans and 69% of independents. The findings were also fairly consistent across incomes, geographies, and education levels.

They are also optimistic about future action. When Americans consider which entity will have the greatest positive impact on the climate in the next five years, big businesses and corporations were ranked second, just behind individuals and ahead of the federal government. A plurality of Republicans ranked corporations first.

This comes as something of a surprise considering the hard line the Republican Party has taken recently against corporate environmental, social, and governance practices — otherwise known as ESG. Conservatives argue businesses are being unfairly pressured to make overtures to climate activists. Still, a plurality of Republicans are optimistic about corporations’ ability to make a difference on climate change.

Americans also expressed a high level of concern around pollutants, the majority of which are generated by industry, agriculture, and big business. Over 40% of respondents individually ranked air pollution, water pollution, and plastic pollution as “an extremely serious problem”; 39% said the same for toxic waste (the Heatmap Climate Poll was conducted shortly after the toxic chemical spill caused by a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio).

The impression that businesses are powerful climate actors also carried over into concerns about their potential to serve as obstacles to renewable and sustainable solutions to address climate change. Forty-one percent of Americans (including 37% of Republicans and 43% of Democrats) characterized lobbyists and special interests having too much power in Washington as being an “extremely serious problem.” Just under a third of Americans (30%, including 19% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats) felt that big corporations standing in the way of the government taking action we need on climate change is another “extremely serious” barrier.

The Heatmap Climate Poll of 1,000 Americans adults was conducted via online panels from Feb. 15 to 20, 2023. The survey included interviews with Americans in all 50 states and Washington, D.C. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.02 percentage points. Read more about the topline results here.


Jeva Lange

Jeva is a founding staff writer at Heatmap. Her writing has also appeared in The Week, where she formerly served as executive editor and culture critic, as well as in The New York Daily News, Vice, and Gothamist, among others. Jeva lives in New York City. Read More

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