As Apple Computer battles a conservative think tank over climate change, it has a new alley in Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group, which owns over 400 companies including Virgin Records and Virgin Airlines.

Apple

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has been called a leader in corporate sustainability and environmental programs and now is itself under attack for the very programs for which it has been lauded.

Anyone against the sustainability efforts should “get out of the stock.”

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) CEO Tim Cook found himself in a war of words with the National Center for Policy Research (NCPPR), an Apple shareholder who is challenging the company on its global warming initiatives.  The NCPPR says there is no compelling data supporting climate change and has pushed a proposal that would force Apple to disclose all costs of its sustainability programs and relationships and contributions to environmental sustainability programs.

After shareholders rejected the proposal at the firm’s February 27 annual meeting, Cook said that anyone against the sustainability efforts should “get out of the stock.”

This brought out Branson, who said “More businesses should be following Apple’s stance in encouraging more investment in sustainability… I’m enormously impressed with Apple CEO Tim Cook for his strong words on climate change deniers, and demanding business should have benefits for people and the planet, beyond just profit,” Branson, a long time supporter of climate change initiatives, stated in a virgin.com blog post.  Branson said environmental sustainability can improve a company’s bottom line and agrees with him that profit is not a business’ only motivation.

“If 97 percent of climate scientists agreeing that climate-warming trends over the past century are due to human activities isn’t compelling data, I don’t know what is?” Branson questioned. “While Tim (Cook) told sustainability skeptics to ‘get out of our stock,’ I would urge climate change deniers to get out of our way,” a direct reference to the NCPPR.

“Big talk from a guy who got rich burning jet fuel”

This drew a personal response launched on the NCPPR web site.  “Big talk from a guy who got rich burning jet fuel.  We hear he wants to go to the moon or Mars or something now. Solar-powered rocket?”

Other conservative groups came to NCPPR’s aid.  “Apple is as obsessed with the theory of so-called climate change as its board member Al Gore is.  Would (programs supporting green energy) continue to make sense if the federal government stopped heavily subsidizing alternative energy?” Justin Danhof of the Nipper’s Free Enterprise Project said in a press release titled “Tim Cook to Apple Investors: Drop Dead.” The press release went on to question Cook’s fiduciary role to shareholders. “After today’s meeting, investors can be certain that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is wasting untold amounts of shareholder money to combat so-called climate change. The only remaining question is: how much?”

What’s below the surface tells the story

Bryan Chaffin, co-founder and editor at The Mac Observer, also joined Branson and lambasted NCPPR as an “avid climate change denier.”  Chaffin says on the surface the proposal is innocent enough, calling for simple transparency. “What’s below the surface illustrates that the NCPPR is pursuing an agenda that elevates the pursuit of anything and everything in the name of profit as something approaching a holy goal,” he was quoted as saying.  “Mixed in with language touting the importance of transparency are statements that also emphasize that outdated, unsustainable and ultimately destructive agenda.”

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) has long been considered a leader in environmental sustainability.  The firm issues annual reports on supplier relationships, publishes product-specific environmental reports, which are more detailed than those of most competitors, covering climate change, energy efficiency, materials use, packaging, avoidance of restricted substances, and recycling, the report said. Apple’s iPad 2 Environmental Report notes that its tablets exceed strict European Directive on the Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment by avoiding mercury in its display, arsenic in its glass, BFRs (brominated flame retardants) and PVCs (polyvinyl chloride).