On September 19th, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the company’s plans to tackle climate crisis through its climate pledge. The pledge states that Amazon, and any other company that it might absorb in the future, is making a commitment to meet the Paris Agreement and achieve net zero carbon by 2040, which is 10 years earlier than the original agreement.
Amazon’s new sustainability goals are now listed on the “About Amazon” page; however, when browsing the Amazon homepage for consumers, I see nothing mentioning or linking to Bezos’ pledge. Having a linked, easily accessible page for customers would further show Amazon’s dedication to the issue.
Bezos’ announced the climate pledge on September 19th, one day before the global climate strike. Before the announcement, there were an estimated 1,500 Amazon employees that were planning on striking. Since then, the Global Climate Strike has come to pass with over 4 million participants worldwide, and it has been gauged that several thousand Amazon employees also participated.
This veritable mutiny within the corporate supermachine has been building momentum for some time. In April, over 8,000 employees signed an open letter to Amazon demanding a company-wide climate plan. Amazon employees wrote that Amazon has an obligation to use its resources and scale to introduce the shift needed during this climate crisis. They called for :
- Company-wide zero carbon emissions plan
- The complete transition away from fossil fuels
- Prioritization of climate action when making business decisions
- Prioritization in the reduction of harm in the most vulnerable communities
- Advocacy at all governmental levels for policies that reduce carbon emissions
- Fair treatment for all employees affected by climate disruptions and other extreme weather events
At the time, this demand was ignored by Amazon, and no changes were made. However, the employees that openly planned to join the strike finally pressured Bezos into announcing the climate pledge.
Many, including myself, initially got excited seeing Amazon announce that they’ll be purchasing 100,000 electric delivery vans as part of the climate pledge. Nevertheless, when I started digging into the matter I found that the Amazon Climate Pledge is not enough.
Amazon’s new corporate HQ will likely be powered by coal & gas
Amazon promises to reach 100% Net Zero Carbon Emissions by the year 2040, and net zero carbon on 50% of shipments by 2030. While this sounds great, we need to remind ourselves what Net Zero means. Amazon is continuously growing; in 2017 they announced their second headquarters employing 50,000 people will open in northern Virginia. Since Amazon hasn’t released its carbon footprint yet, I could not find the estimate of the footprint of this new HQ in comparison to the Seattle location. Nonetheless, the new HQ would have severe implications on the environment. According to The Guardian, 70% of the world’s data is served through this area outside D.C. in northern Virginia, which uses 99% non-renewable energy coming from coal, gas, and nuclear power. Furthermore, the massive amount of water needed to cool data centers is yet another way Amazon HQ will impact the environment.
Bezos plans to buy his way out with carbon credit
In 2017, Amazon announced that 5 billion items were shipped via Amazon Prime alone. Amazon plans to reach Net Zero by buying “carbon credits,” which is money that is donated to carbon offset programs. But buying carbon doesn’t actually reduce the amount of carbon that is in the atmosphere: It simply legitimizes it, and at this point in our crisis such a strategy is simply wasting time and putting more fuel to the fire. With carbon credits, Amazon does not need to adopt any sustainable practices and Bezos is just buying his way out.
Amazon’s commitment to reducing packaging waste is nonexistent
Then we have the matter of packaging. When I was scrolling through Amazon’s sustainability post about packaging, I was a little confused. All I saw were mentions of other companies and how they worked together to make it “frustration-free.” Amazon mentioned that they cut down on a measly 16% of packaging waste through the implementation of this program. So what? I remember shipments I’ve received where I literally laughed out loud and sent pictures to my roommate of the nesting doll of packaging materials I received. Amazon, the frustration isn’t from too many twisty-ties around parts of a toy, it’s from the reality that a third of America’s waste is from unnecessary shipping materials.
Amazon donates to climate-change deniers
2024 is in less than 5 years, and at first glance, powering 80% of business operations by renewable energy sounds impressive. But does it mean anything when the company openly offers Amazon Web Services to oil and gas extraction companies? In 2018 alone, Amazon donated to 68 members of Congress who actively spoke in denial of climate change.
With millions of customers all over the world, I appreciate Amazon’s decision to move towards sustainability, and I hope that this spurs a movement in other commercial giants. However, these changes cannot end there, further steps need to be made. As consumers, we have to demand the changes that need to be made to save our world.
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Photo: Amazon; Reuters/Lindsey Wasson