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Timberland chief's advice to the White House and Chamber: 'Grow up!'

It's easy to see "big business" as some kind of monolithic entity that moves in lock step with the major trade groups in Washington, opposing taxes and regulation at every turn. But then you talk to an actual businessman such as Jeff Swartz, who's been running Timberland, his family's business, since 1998.

I caught up with Swartz briefly last week while he was in Washington -- "a nutty place," he says. He was talking to lawmakers about how companies can help rebuild Haiti through economic development.

I asked him how he felt, as someone running a business, about the fight between the White House and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (of which Timberland is not a member). He has no patience for it.

"I think the White House and Chamber should go off to an island and talk to each other forever," said Swartz, an intense guy who uses none of the measured diplomatic phrasings of your typical chief executive. "Grow up!"

He said people in business are desperate for some climate guidelines from Washington. "It would be really useful to have standards," said Swartz, who is part of an advocacy group called We Can Lead, made up of chief executives from more than 150 corporations pressuring lawmakers for a climate-change bill. "I'm for legislation -- any legislation."

Timberland has been particularly aggressive about reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2009, the company cut emissions by 36 percent compared with its 2006 baseline. And it's on track to reach its goal of cutting those emissions in half, compared with 2006, by the end of this year.

Swartz -- who didn't vote for Barack Obama or John McCain in 2008, instead writing in a candidate -- is no fan of Obama: "He's a terrible president, but he's my president." And he resents what he considers anti-business, anti-bank rhetoric coming from the White House. Instead, Swartz says he wants action on issues such as carbon emissions.

"Tell us what you expect of us," he added. "Stop telling us we're demons."

By Jia Lynn Yang  |  July 26, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Climate change , U.S. Chamber of Commerce  
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