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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Intel Oregon: Outstanding Achievement in Corporate Greenwashing

“Intel remains committed to the principle that Oregon continues to lead on the critical issues of carbon reduction and climate change. I hope and believe there will be legislation this year that delivers on that goal.” – Jonathan Williams, Government Affairs Manager for Intel Oregon

When the Wall Street Journal devotes page space to the concept of industry greenwashing, you know you’re looking at what might just be a change in public consciousness. More and more people are turning a critical eye to corporations that trumpet their own environmental concernedness far and wide, then turn around and pollute the air, destroy biodiversity, or fight government policies that would raise environmental standards. Nowhere is that more true than in my own environmentally-inclined state of Oregon. None of our Oregon-based companies quite made the Journal’s list of the “Top Ten Greenwashers in America.” But if you drew up a similar list specifically for corporations with close ties to the Northwest, you’d have to put Intel Corporation somewhere near the top.

While Intel, the largest computer chip manufacturer in the world, is technically based in California, Oregon is the company’s largest center of manufacturing in the US. And unsurprisingly, the Oregon branch of Intel has pulled out all the stops attempting to paint itself as “green.” But over the last year, I’ve worked with other student activists to look at just how Intel’s policies in Oregon match up with the company’s green rhetoric. And this is what we’ve found:

As the largest private employer in Oregon, Intel wields immense political power in this state. Yet as the Oregon legislature debates some of the most progressive climate policies in the country this year, Intel has been conspicuously silent. And for Intel, silence means giving a thumbs-up to those who would like to gut Oregon’s promising clean energy future. Why? Because Intel is one of the largest members of Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities (ICNU) – a group that has consistently lobbied against progressive climate policy in Oregon. This year, ICNU has joined forces with a variety of other corporate interest groups to form Oregonians for Balanced Climate Policy – actually an anti-environmental conglomeration of the worst polluters in this state that now represents the single most powerful opponent to climate policy in Oregon.

Let’s be clear: Intel doesn’t control everything that ICNU or Oregonians for Balanced Climate Policy does. But if Intel doesn’t speak out loud and clear and tell Oregon legislators that it supports bold climate policy, then by default it allows the corporate anti-sustainability advocates to have their way, lending them its support through membership in business groups like ICNU. When you belong to the largest alliance of polluting industries in the state, then doing nothing is really doing something: something negative.

Last month students from the Cascade Climate Network, myself included, offered Intel the chance to put some backbone in its rhetoric by joining us as we lobbied for a cap on Oregon’s global warming pollution. Over thirty Oregon college students turned out for a day of lobbying our members of the legislature on March 31st, and we asked Intel to be there with us. This would have been a way for the company to clearly show that its membership in ICNU (and ICNU’s involvement in Oregonians for Balanced Climate Policy) wouldn’t keep Intel itself from sticking up for a future based on clean energy. But Intel lobbyist Jonathan Williams declined our invitation to push for Senate Bill 80 – the bill that would put a gradually-decreasing cap on Oregon greenhouse emissions.

“I cannot get involved in legislation before I understand the implications of that legislation for Intel,” said Williams. “I remain unclear about the effect a revised SB 80 would have on Intel, [so] I cannot participate in any discussions on the issue.” Thinking this was probably fair, and giving Intel the benefit of the doubt, I suggested the company might simply join us in pushing for a cap on carbon, with the understanding that they couldn’t get behind a specific policy at this time. Williams turned down that offer as well, and there was no sign of Intel on our pro-climate lobby day. More than that, my communications with Jonathan Williams seemed to confirm Intel’s position on Senate Bill 80 – called the “centerpiece of our climate agenda this year” by Oregon’s Healthy Climate Partnership – is officially a non-position. And I’ve already explained what “neutrality” really means for a company with Intel’s corporate ties.

So what are we student activists to do? By documenting our lobby day offer to Intel and the company’s refusal to support a cap on greenhouse emissions, the youth climate movement in Oregon has compiled what to my knowledge is the first definitive evidence of Intel’s turning down a specific opportunity to do the right thing. Corporate greenwashers tend to be experts at slipping out of sticky public-relations debacles, and finding ways to blame the problem on someone. But it’s going to be hard for Intel to convincingly refute this one. Now we youth activists must do what we’ve done well again and again: call out a not-so-good corporate citizen on its own bogus rhetoric. Click here to tune into the campaign. Let the show begin.

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