Does it matter that Apple pulled out the Chamber of Commerce over climate change?

After all, companies routinely come and go from professional bodies with little notice. And with some 3 million business members, the Chamber is the world’s largest commercial federation. So what difference does one less computer maker mean?

Apple’s brand power is a new factor here. In withdrawing from the Chamber, Apple is shining the brightest light yet on the growing schism in corporate America over climate policy. Apple is the first highly-visible consumer brand to make the move, so will gather more attention than the other companies that have recently split with the Chamber.

Charges that Apple is greenwashing are probably inevitable. After all, the move caps a recent green push by Apple. Last week, the company unveiled ambitious green goals to increase its disclosure of green performance metrics and to improve its internal operations and products. CEO Steve Jobs granted BusinessWeek a rare interview on the topic, arguing that it should be granted credit for the energy efficiency gains of its computer products.

Charging Apple with self interest in this case is hollow, however. Having failed to undermine the scientific underpinnings of climate change, opponents of climate policy have moved on to an economic argument that it amounts to ruinous economic policy. This is an argument the Chamber makes.

Yet many of the most prominent champions of this line – particularly Big Oil – have earned super-sized profits selling carbon-rich products for decades. They don’t make for very sympathetic victims of such a shift to low-carbon energy systems. At their most cyncical, arguments like the Chambers use public interest as a veil for corporate profit, a far more cynical work of spin than green washing for profit.

Apple has a way of a drawing lightning to issues, merely because of its cultish brand power, and even if it’s not the first. Apple’s move follows similar pullouts by three utilities, Exelon (EXC), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), and PNM Resources (PNM). General Electric and Johnson & Johnson have also gone public with their disagreement with chamber policy, but have stuck around. And Nike has pulled out the chamber’s board, but not withdrawn completely. Whether this move sparks more corporations to follow suit remains to be seen.

Apple’s announcement stands out also because of the starkness of its statement. Apple vice president of government affairs Catherine Novelli wrote three curt paragraphs to Tom Donohue, CEO of the Chamber of Commerce:

“We strongly object to the Chamber’s recent comments opposing the EPA’s effort to limit greenhouse gases… Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the Chamber at odds with us in this effort… we have decided to end our membership immediately.”

Full text here:

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.