Thursday, April 30, 2009

Update on Intel Greenwashing

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Intel Oregon’s outstanding corporate greenwashing efforts, through which the company has sought to maintain a green, eco-friendly image in my home state even while lending its membership and influence to industry associations intent on sinking state-level global warming policy. In the short time since that post was published, much more has happened. For one thing, Intel’s national-level version was, for the second year running, awarded 1st place on the EPA Green Power Partnership’s “Top 50” list of purchasers of renewable energy.

What does Intel’s receiving this award tell us about their greenwashing strategies? I recently participated in a very productive email exchange with a few of my fellow Northwesterners, in which we discussed what receiving this award really says about Intel. Here are a few things that came out of the discussion:

One point that emerged was that the very fact that Intel is the nation’s number one purchaser of renewable power, and yet still covers less than half of their power with renewable sources, underscores the truly massive amounts of energy this company consumes. Several finalists on the “Top 50” purchased a much higher percentage of their energy use from renewables than Intel, but couldn’t compete simply because Intel’s energy consumption is so great. This doesn’t mean that Intel doesn’t have the best of intentions when it purchases renewable energy credits. But it does go to show that placement on the “Top 50” list isn’t everything.

In Oregon, the home of Intel’s largest state-level branch, the company’s massive energy bill has ensured it a place in Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities (ICNU) – an industry association that, as I explained in my post from a few weeks ago, is heavily involved in fighting global warming policy in this state. Since my last post on the subject, ICNU and its allies have scored a major victory: the idea of a carbon cap has been stripped from Oregon’s Senate Bill 80, rendering the carbon cap concept essentially dead in Oregon this year.

This happened less than a month after the Cascade Climate Network challenged Intel’s Government Affairs Manager to lobby with us in support of a carbon cap. Intel turned down that challenge, and kept quiet on the cap all during the time the idea was being debated in the legislature. It’s not unrealistic to think that vocal support from Intel – the largest private employer in Oregon – could have made all the difference to the cap’s survival in Oregon. But Intel chose not to get involved, which by default meant letting industry groups like ICNU speak for it.

It’s great that Intel is purchasing green power. However, the company’s huge energy bills guarantee that it will be involved in state politics which affect (or which Intel believes could affect) corporations’ access to cheap energy. In Oregon, the results of Intel’s political involvement have not been positive; if you factor in the credibility that the company lends to industry groups opposed to global warming policy, Intel is doing far more harm than good this legislative session.

Can Intel be excused on the basis that they’re devoting all their green efforts to practices like purchasing green power, rather than state-level lobbying efforts? The answer is no, because the choice is a false dichotomy. By and large, the people making decisions about Intel’s energy purchases are not even the same individuals deciding what state-level bills the company will or will not support. Paul Otellini, President and CEO of Intel, is a busy guy: he almost certainly was not even consulted when the Oregon branch of his company formed its position on Senate Bill 80.

Otellini says of Intel, “Our renewable purchase is just one part of a multi-faceted approach to protect the environment, and one that we hope spurs additional development and demand for renewable energy.” Well, a truly multi-faceted approach to environmental issues should include, if not active efforts to promote state policies that curb pollution, at least withdrawal from industry groups that work to discourage such policies.

Maybe it's time Paul Otellini checked up on what his company is actually doing in Oregon.

1 comment:

Jesse Jenkins said...

Nick, thanks for the update on Intel's shenanigans. You are exactly right that a real multi-faceted corporate strategy to push for a clean energy future necessarily includes active and responsible engagement in policy and politics. Nike's poor record in this category contrasts sharply with real clean energy business leaders like those in the Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy partnership (BICEP). Like Intel, these companies, including Intel-competitor Sun Microsystems and Oregon's other major corporate employer, Nike, all have aggressive corporate sustainability and clean energy purchasing plans. But unlike Intel, these companies know that buying green energy isn't enough to make you a real green company. They know that true clean energy champs flex their political muscle as well, hence the BICEP coalition. It's time for Intel to dump ICNU and join their colleagues in BICEP, the real corporate clean energy leaders.