Apple is the latest company to withdraw its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to the chamber’s stance on addressing climate change.
The chamber, which represents 3 million dues-paying businesses, opposes the Waxman-Markey energy bill and the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. In August, Bill Kovacs, the chamber’s vice president for environment, requested hearings to put “the science of climate change on trial” and compared them to the “Scopes monkey trial” (which tested an act banning the teaching of evolution), but later retracted his comments as inappropriate.
Apple’s defection on October 5 is just the latest in a string of high-profile departures within the past few weeks. Pacific Gas & Electric, California’s largest utility, canceled its membership first; followed by PNM Resources, an energy holding company based in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Exelon, a national electric utility with $19 billion in annual revenue.
Last week, citing difference on climate change policy, Nike withdrew from the 117-member chamber board but retained its membership. The company explained in a letter: “we will continue our membership to advocate for climate change legislation inside the committee structure and believe that we can better influence policy by being part of the conversation.”
Two other companies, General Electric and Johnson & Johnson, released statements saying they disagree with the chamber's climate policy.
The chamber is the world's largest business federation and a powerful voice in Washington. In 2008, it spent $91,725,000 on lobbying; it regularly tops a lobbying spending list compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.
In a letter to the chamber, Apple says it “is committed to protecting the environment and the communities in which we operate around the world […] Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the Chamber at odds with us in this effort."
Chamber President Tom Donohue responded by accusing Apple of greenwashing. In a letter to Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc., he wrote: “It is unfortunate that your company didn't take the time to understand the chamber's position on climate and forfeited the opportunity to advance a 21st-century approach to climate change." At the end of September, Donohue released a press release claiming that opposition to a specific bill does not mean that the chamber “must be opposed to all efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, or that we deny the existence of any problem.”
Apple’s departure from the chamber comes on the heels of a new feature on its website, which traces the environmental impact of the company's products—including manufacturing, transport, facilities, product use over time, and disposal. Apple claims an overall 10.2 million metric ton carbon footprint, most of which comes from product manufacture and use, and features a list of ways it has reduced that footprint.
For some consumers, the spat has prompted confusion about who’s really greenwashing. Initially, many readers of Green Inc, a New York Times blog, responded enthusiastically. “That’s fantastic! It’s great to hear about responsible companies for a change. Too many companies can’t figure out that dead people buy nothing,” one poster, John, wrote on October 6.
The next day, another user, Elle, wrote: “It is hard not to be skeptical about large corporations appearing to go ‘green’. Could this be a clever marketing ploy by Apple or are they actually making a stand to start things happening?"
Still, the recent flight of companies at least suggests that, for increasingly climate-minded consumers, association with the kind of comments that Donohue has made spell a public-relations disaster from which companies will gladly disassociate themselves.
Susie Shutts wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Susie is a web editorial intern. Interested? YES! Magazine's special issues, and .