BEAVERTON, OR — Nike resigned its position on the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Wednesday, the day after a small group of investors began urging the company to withdraw from the group over its opposition to climate change legislation.

The pressure has been building on companies such Nike, which have in recent years taken strong positions supporting progressive climate change laws in the U.S., yet they hold memberships with trade groups spending millions of dollars to defeat the current climate change bill winding through Congress.

The situation reached a boiling point over the last week, with high-profile electric utility companies leaving the chamber, including Pacific Gas and Electric Co., Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM Resources), and Exelon.

“We believe that on the issue of climate change the chamber has not represented the diversity of perspective held by the board of directors,” Nike said in a statement today. “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.”

Nike, a founding member of the pro-climate law coalition, Business for Innovative Climate & Energy Policy, publicly criticized (PDF) the chamber’s position last week in the wake of other companies withdrawing their membership. The chamber has drawn the ire of many for its calls to hold a public trial on climate change science, in the same vein as the controversial Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s over the teaching of evolution in U.S. schools.

The chamber attempted to clarify its position Tuesday, arguing that it supported “strong federal legislation,” just not the Waxman-Markey bill, which it criticized because “it is neither comprehensive not international, and it falls short on moving renewable and alternative technologies into the marketplace.”

It wasn’t enough to dissuade Nike from resigning its board seat, which some investors saw as a positive sign.

“The Green Century Funds applaud Nike for withdrawing from the board of directors of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce,” the socially responsible investment firm said in a statement. “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 position on climate policy. We are encouraged that moving forward Nike will continue to evaluate its membership in the chamber, and we continue to urge the company to preserve its position of environmental and climate leadership by fully leaving the chamber, as PG&E, PNM Resources and Exelon have done.”

Photo CC-licensed by Flickr user jimrhoda.