Amazon Makes a Climate Pledge, But Not the One Employees are Asking For

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice says it's a start, but not enough

amazon ceo jeff bezos
After internal and external pressure, Amazon has revealed new climate goals.
BusinessWire

Just days before the United Nations holds its Climate Action Summit in New York, Amazon issued a Climate Pledge calling on corporate signatories to follow its lead in achieving net-zero operations by 2040.

The move follows increased pressure both internally and externally for action on climate change, including a group calling itself Amazon Employees for Climate Justice. About 1,700 members planned to walk out in solidarity with the youth-led Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20, and called on Amazon to do more: Reach zero emissions by 2030, as well as end custom Amazon Web Services (AWS) contracts for fossil fuel companies, and stop funding climate change-denying lobbyists and politicians.

Amazon did not acknowledge the protest or demands in its Climate Pledge announcement. Instead, the company noted it is the first signatory of its own pledge, which asks companies to:

  • Regularly measure and report greenhouse gas emissions
  • Implement decarbonization strategies like efficiency improvements, renewable energy and materials reductions
  • Neutralize any remaining emissions with “additional, quantifiable, real, permanent and socially beneficial” offsets

Amazon also announced a sustainability website that will feature information on its carbon footprint, and clarified its renewable energy goals: It plans to reach 80% renewable energy by 2024, 100% renewable energy by 2030, and become carbon neutral by 2040 with efforts like wind and solar renewable energy projects.

In addition, Amazon placed an order for 100,000 vans from Rivian, an electric vehicle company that happens to have received $440 million in investment capital from Amazon, with deliveries scheduled to begin in 2021. The online retailer plans to have 10,000 electric vans on the road “as early as” 2022 with the remaining 90,000 in circulation by 2030.

Will Amazon reach its climate goals?

It’s worth noting Amazon’s eyes are sometimes bigger than its stomach. For example, the company announced ambitious plans for its checkout-free Amazon Go concept last year, scaling to thousands of locations by 2021. The reality, however, is still just a small fraction of that target.

Amazon’s efforts on climate build on Shipment Zero, its previously announced goal to eventually make all shipments net-zero carbon, with 50% by 2030.

The Employees for Climate Justice called the new pledge a “huge win,” but also said it—and Amazon’s actions to date—are not enough. Even making 50% of shipments net-zero carbon by 2030 does not necessarily mean a decrease in emissions compared to current levels given Amazon’s rate of growth, the group said in a blog post about the strike.

“As long as Amazon uses its power to help oil and gas companies discover and extract more fossil fuel, donates to climate-denying politicians and think tanks, and enables the oppression of climate refugees, employees will keep raising our voices,” the group added in a statement. “We must also consider: Which parts of our supply chain aren’t included when Amazon reports our emissions? We look forward to working with leadership to understand these questions and to working to ensure transparency and accountability.”

For its part, Amazon’s announcement repeatedly noted it will have net-zero annual carbon emissions a decade before signatories to the Paris Agreement, so the platform appears satisfied with its current commitments.

“If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon—which delivers more than 10 billion items a year—can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can,” said CEO Jeff Bezos in a statement. “I’ve been talking with other CEOs of global companies, and I’m finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge. Large companies signing the Climate Pledge will send an important signal to the market that it’s time to invest in the products and services the signatories will need to meet their commitments.”

The Employees for Climate Justice, however, said the Paris Agreement alone is not enough, adding, “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets to continue the fight for a livable future.”

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