Jeff Bezos took to his personal Instagram account on Monday to announce the launch of the Bezos Earth Fund, a $10 billion global initiative to undertake the existential threat of climate change.
The CEO and founder of Amazon—who currently has an estimated net worth of $129.9 billion—is pledging nearly 8% of that net worth to tackle climate change through a series of grants he will issue this summer to fund undisclosed scientists, activists and NGOs.
In a brief, informal statement on Instagram (tacked on with a generic image of Earth), Bezos wrote, “Climate change is the biggest threat to our planet. I want to work alongside others both to amplify known ways and to explore new ways of fighting the devastating impact of climate change on this planet we all share.”
The CEO’s preoccupation with Earth—versus the level of self-interest he has in Amazon’s profitability—has been a hot topic among environmental activists and even his own employees, 4,500 of whom published a piece last April calling on Bezos to address climate change at the company.
In the open letter, employees called for a stop to the AWS for Oil & Gas initiative, which boosts the fossil fuel industry by providing advanced computing technologies so it can extract more oil more efficiently. They also called for a halt of donations to the 68 climate-denying and anti-climate members of Congress, among other requests.
According to The Washington Post—which is owned by Bezos—many of those employees were apparently defying the company’s communications policy, and risked being fired for speaking up.
More recently, Bezos was under fire from critics for being “stingy” when he only donated $690,000 to Australian wildfire relief in January.
Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, North American director of 350.org, a nonprofit dedicated to sustainability efforts (primarily obliterating the fossil fuel industry for more eco-friendly and clean renewable energy solutions), told Adweek that 350.org was surprised by the Bezos Earth Fund announcement due to the Amazon executive’s neglect of his corporation’s damage to the environment.
In 2018, Amazon disclosed that its total carbon footprint was 44.4 million metric tons, making the ecommerce mammoth one of the worst polluters in the United States. The company is often criticized by consumers for its tendency to over-package and produce more waste.
“350.org stands in solidarity with the hundreds of workers who have been holding Amazon accountable, and modeling a just transition led by workers. We expect The Bezos Earth Fund to celebrate the efforts of these workers, and empower them to continue pushing for higher climate standards within the company,” said O’Laughlin.
Prior to the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit in New York in September, Amazon issued a climate pledge to reach 100% zero emissions by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2040 through renewable energy efforts. Amazon also ordered 100,000 electric vans from Rivian, with plans to have those vans out on the road as early as 2022.
“We respect this investment as a first step in the right direction, insofar as it promises resources towards people-oriented, restorative solutions, rather than false ones that inflate Amazon’s bottom line,” O’Laughlin said.
Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner at Greenpeace USA, said that while The Bezos Earth Fund is “a welcome recognition of the serious threat of climate change,” the international environmental nonprofit has “major concerns” based on Amazon’s environmental track record.
“$10 billion dollars is indeed a large amount but its not either or—Amazon needs to eliminate its own carbon footprint while investing rapidly in renewable energy solutions,” Jardim said.
Greenpeace USA took to Twitter to publicly pose questions about the fund directed at Amazon after the announcement was published yesterday:
A person involved with Bezos Earth Fund told The Verge that the monetary focus would be entirely on charities, and not on private sector investment.