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A Rift in the Corporate World over Climate Change
By Sara Laks

Corporations are showing commitment to addressing climate change by challenging colleagues in the business world who still refuse to recognize the reality of global warming and the need for action.  Among these are Apple, Exelon, PG&E, PNM Resources and Duke Energy who have all resigned from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce along with Nike, who has stepped down from Chamber’s board, due to disagreement with the Chamber’s position on climate change.  

A statement released by the U.S Chamber of Commerce that asked that the science of global warming be put on “trial” placed numerous members at odds with the Chamber, many of whom are also members of coalitions that support policies to curb global warming such as U.S. Climate Action Partnership, Businesses for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, and the Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council.  The Chamber has firmly maintained its position that recent proposals to cap greenhouse-gas emissions will lead to large job losses with little environmental benefit. “It doesn’t make sense to us to be actively lobbying in DC for federal legislation at the same time that we’re a member of an association that is aggressively opposing climate change,” explained PNM spokesman Don Brown.

This split comes at a crucial point on the climate change legislation timeline when both sides have been escalating campaigns to sway national and global policy. If these departures become a trend, the credibility of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, one of the most powerful business lobby groups in Washington, could be undermined unless they reform their stance.  Investors and investment focused organizations, including Walden Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management and First Affirmative Financial Network, have been working to influence remaining members to follow suit with this progressive stance in letters to 14 companies whose own policies contradict those of the Chamber.

“Climate change is one of those major issues where misalignment between companies and trade associations carries serious bottom line risks for companies,” said Bruce F. Freed, President of the Center for Political Accountability, a non-partisan advocacy organization promoting corporate political transparency and accountability in a recent press release.  “Good corporate governance should lead companies to assure that their trade associations do not engage in activities and use their funds in ways that may damage the company’s reputation or be at odds with its stated public policy and business objectives.”

By breaking the traditional corporate lockstep in opposition to climate change, these dissenters recognize the real economic benefits that leadership on the climate change front can hold.  Perhaps the most noteworthy aspect of the departures from the Chamber is this leadership shown by the utility companies, Exelon, PG&E, PNM Resources and Duke Energy, all part of one of the nation’s traditionally most polluting industries.

Sara Laks, Assistant to the President


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Posted: October 15, 2009