Nike, under pressure from shareholders, became the fourth company in the span of a week to pull away from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the business group's opposition to federal climate action and its call for a "Scopes Monkey Trial" on climate science.
The sportswear giant announced this morning that it was resigning from the Chamber's board of directors, though it plans to retain its U.S. Chamber of Commerce membership so it can continue "to advocate for climate change legislation."
"Nike believes U.S. businesses must advocate for aggressive climate change legislation and that the United States needs to move rapidly into a sustainable economy to remain competitive and ensure continued economic growth," the company wrote.
"As we've stated, we fundamentally disagree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change, and their recent action challenging the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action."
Nike's positions on federal climate action contrast sharply with those of Chamber executives, who have questioned the very science of global warming in their efforts to block greenhouse gas regulation by the EPA — regulations could change how high-emitting industries do business. Even in backpedaling from his Scopes Monkey Trial comment, Chamber Vice President Bill Kovacs continued to argue that there was no proof that global warming threatens public health and welfare.
Chamber President Thomas J. Donohue tried to clarify the group's position again yesterday, saying the Chamber "continues to support strong federal legislation," but that any U.S. climate bill "must include all major CO2 emitting economies, promote new technologies, emphasize efficiency, ensure affordable energy for families and businesses, and help create American jobs and return our economy to prosperity." The business group opposes the House-passed climate bill "because it is neither comprehensive nor international," he said.
Nike, as a member of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, helped to write that bill. The company has also been channeling its "Just Do It" mantra into support for U.S. climate action as a founding member of the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy (BICEP), and it has won praise for its commitments to sustainable business practices.
"Nike's withdrawal is clearly a dramatic blow to the Chamber and illustrates the failure of the Chamber's last-ditch effort to revise its backwards position on climate policy," said Emily Stone of Green Century Capital Management.
"We are encouraged to see that moving forward the company will continue to evaluate its membership, and we continue to urge the company to preserve its strong brand of sustainability leadership by fully leaving the Chamber."
Green Century Funds and two other Nike shareholders, Newground Social Investment and Basilian Fathers of Toronto, wrote to the company yesterday, urging it to take a stand against the Chamber's climate policy position and resign from the business group.
In recent days, utilities Exelon, PG&E and PNM Resources all announced they would let their Chamber memberships expire, citing differences with the Chamber's anti-climate action positions. Asked who might be next, Stone noted:
"There are a lot of companies facing similar misalignment, including some companies that are members of BICEP."
GE, Caterpillar and Johnson & Johnson are prime examples of companies with philosophical conflicts with the Chamber when it comes to climate legislation: All three are involved in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and benefit from the business connections, but at the same time, they are vocally in favor of climate legislation.
All three, like Nike and the three utilities, are members of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, the business-environment coalition that wrote the blueprint used by U.S. Reps. Henry Waxman and Ed Markey to craft the House-passed American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES). The Senate's early version of the bill released today by Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry largely mirrors ACES.
In addition to being involved in US CAP, the CEOs of GE and Caterpillar also serve on President Obama's Economic Recovery Advisory Board, where executives told the president during a meeting in May that as the economy starts to recover, U.S. businesses will need clear carbon price signal from Washington if the president hopes to shift to a more sustainable, clean-energy future.
Caterpillar President Stuart L. Levenick is still on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, along with executives from several other US CAP members, including Siemens CEO George Nolen, Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld, Dow Chemical Chief Sustainability Officer David E. Kepler, Deere & Company Vice President Charles R. Stamp, Jr., and Duke Energy CEO James Rogers. Duke made headlines this summer when it pulled out of the National Association of Manufacturers and the coal front-group American Coalition for Clean Coal Energy, which was connected to forged letters to Congress opposing the climate bill, but the power company remains part of the Chamber.
The full statement from Nike read:
"Nike believes U.S. businesses must advocate for aggressive climate change legislation and that the United States needs to move rapidly into a sustainable economy to remain competitive and ensure continued economic growth.
"As we've stated, we fundamentally disagree with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce on the issue of climate change and their recent action challenging the EPA is inconsistent with our view that climate change is an issue in need of urgent action.
"We believe businesses and their representative associations need to take an active role to invest in sustainable business practices and innovative solutions.
"It is important that U.S. companies be represented by a strong and effective Chamber that reflects the interests of all its members on multiple issues. We believe that on the issue of climate change the Chamber has not represented the diversity of perspective held by the board of directors.
"Therefore, we have decided to resign our board of directors position. 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. Moving forward we will continue to evaluate our membership."