Amazon commits to net-zero by 2040 following staff protests

E-commerce giant Amazon has pledged to reach net-zero carbon emissions across its operations by 2040, after its staff lobbied for the firm to take more bold action on climate change.

Pictured: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

Pictured: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

The commitment, unveiled at a Global Optimism event on Thursday (19 September), will see Amazon invest in energy efficiency measures, renewable energy, materials efficiency and low-carbon technologies over the next three decades.

As a first step, the company has committed to order 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles, the first 10,000 of which will be added to its global fleet by 2022. The remaining 90,000 vehicles will be phased in by 2030. All of the vehicles will be purchased from Michigan-based carmaker Rivian, which Amazon previously backed with a $440m investment.

Amazon has additionally placed a deadline on its previously announced ambition to source 100% renewable energy across its global operations, setting the deadline at 2030. This target is bolstered with an interim goal to source 80% of the firm’s energy mix from renewable sources by 2024. To date, Amazon has invested in 15 utility-scale wind and solar ptojects and has installed more than 50 onsite solar arrays at its fulfilment centres and sort centres.

Responding to calls from campaigners for Amazon to get involved in forest protection efforts in the wake of a record year of forest fires in Brazil, Amazon’s new climate strategy also includes a $100m investment in nature restoration projects. The money is being dubbed the “Right Now Climate Fund” and will be allocated by The Nature Conservancy to projects such as forest protection and peatland restoration.

“We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue—we’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference,” Amazon’s chief executive officer Jeff Bezos said.

“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.”

Climate campaigns

The move from Amazon comes after a string of protests from its employees, with some staff in the company’s home state of Washington having founded a staff activism movement called ‘Amazon Employees for Climate Justice’ in 2018.

The group of employees last year teamed up with ISS and Glass Lewis to file a shareholder resolution which would have required Amazon to release a plan detailing how, exactly, it will phase out fossil fuels in order to reach its ongoing aim of using 100% renewable energy. The resolution ultimately did not pass.

Then, in April, more than 8,200 Amazon employees signed an open letter to Bezos urging him to publicly publish plans outlining how the business will align with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5C trajectory.

Today (20 September), more than 1,000 staff involved in the group are due to walk out at 11.30 am PST in support of the School Strikes for Climate movement.

While Amazon has not publicly given its backing to the walkout, the strikes today are due to mark the first time that businesses will give their support at scale. Supporting firms include the likes of Ben & Jerrys, Patagonia and Lush Cosmetics. 

Open pledge

Responding to Amazon’s new commitments, the UN’s former climate change chief Christiana Figueres said they would “help many other companies to accelerate their own decarbonisation”.

“Bold steps by big companies will make a huge difference in the development of new technologies and industries to support a low carbon economy,” she said. “If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge.”

To encourage this change beyond its own operations, Amazon has open-sourced the key facets of its new climate commitments for other businesses to sign.

Measures included in this publicly available commitment, called ‘The Climate Pledge’, are decarbonising in line with the Paris Agreement through “real business changes and innovations”; neutralising any remaining emissions by 2040 in a way that delivers “additional, quantifiable, real and permanent” social and environmental benefits; and regularly measuring and reporting on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Amazon is one of the remaining big global firms to not produce carbon reports, although there are plans to do so before the end of 2019.

Sarah George



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