Amazon will become the first signatory of the newly formed “Climate Pledge,” a pact announced by company founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos on Thursday to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early.
Speaking in Washington with former U.N. climate chief Christiana Figueres, Bezos said the agreement would require signatories to measure and report their emissions on a regular basis. The pledge would require companies to implement decarbonization strategies in line with the Paris agreement and calls on signatories to be at net zero carbon across their businesses by 2040. Any remaining carbon emissions would be neutralized with quantifiable and permanent offsets to achieve the pledge’s goal.
“Meeting these goals is something that can only be done in collaboration with other large companies because we’re all part of each other’s supply chains,” Bezos said. “We’re signing up to help do that.”
(Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The company has long been a target for environmental activists, who say it has done too little to offset the emissions it produces. And Amazon has resisted revealing the impact on the climate its business has had, previously declining, for example, to divulge its carbon footprint to CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, a framework for corporate reporting on environmental issues.
The president of CDP North America, Bruno Sarda, called the new Climate Pledge that Amazon agreed to “unnecessary,” given that carbon-reporting standards already exist. Amazon is the only large retailer that hasn’t reported through CDP, and Sarda said the new pledge lacks standardized rules for what’s disclosed and metrics for what’s measured.
“It fails the test of accountability and transparency,” Sarda said.
Amazon is following standard reporting protocols for greenhouse gases, said spokesman Dan Perlet.
Bezos’s appearance comes just a day before more than 1,000 Amazon employees plan to walk off the job to protest the company’s track record on environmental responsibility. The walkout is part of the larger global climate strike that includes more than 800 events in the United States alone.
Amazon, of course, has a massive environmental footprint, delivering what some experts estimate is more than 1 billion packages a year to consumers in the United States. The company’s Amazon Web Services is also the leading provider of cloud-computing to corporate customers, consuming massive amounts of electricity to power its giant data centers, including one in Northern Virginia.
And Amazon initiatives to speed delivery, jetting products quickly to warehouses and deploying a fleet of delivery vehicles to customers’ homes, also are likely to expand its environmental footprint.
That race to get packages to consumers is a competitive advantage Amazon wields over rivals, who can’t match the e-commerce giant’s sophisticated logistics infrastructure. But that advantage exists in conflict with any effort to reduce its carbon emissions, said Josué Velázquez Martínez, a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Transportation and Logistics and director of its Sustainable Logistics Initiative.
“That part is not sustainable at all,” Velázquez Martínez said of Amazon’s push toward one-day and same-day deliveries. He believes Amazon should show consumers the environmental impact of speedy shipping as a way to provide an incentive to choose slower delivery.
“They could do much more in terms of sustainability,” Velázquez Martínez said.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Bezos said that increasing the speed of delivery can be one path to reducing carbon emissions. Same-day or one-day delivery eases reliance on air transportation, Bezos said. Having warehouses located close to customers means that products travel shorter distances, which can bring less carbon-intensive delivery times.
Amazon has taken steps to make its packaging and shipping more efficient, although that can also be attributed to reducing costs.
In February, Amazon committed to making half its shipments carbon neutral by 2030. In a blog post at the time, Amazon’s senior vice president of operations Dave Clark wrote the company would also disclose the company’s carbon footprint by the end of the year.
A group of workers who have formed under the name Amazon Employees for Climate Justice are pushing the company to set more aggressive targets. In a post earlier this month on the website Medium, the group calls on Amazon to commit to being carbon neutral by 2030, to end Amazon Web Services contracts that help energy companies accelerate oil and gas extraction, and to stop funding politicians and lobbyists who deny climate change.
“As employees at one of the largest and most powerful companies in the world, our role in facing the climate crisis is to ensure our company is leading on climate, not following,” the group wrote in its Medium post.
Bezos said Thursday that he didn’t agree with the idea that the company should stop giving energy companies tools to do their jobs. He added that Amazon will “look very carefully” at whether it’s funding climate change deniers.
The employee group tweeted Thursday the Amazon’s new initiative is a “huge win” for it efforts. But it still wants more.
“The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world,” the group tweeted. “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets.”
The environmental group Greenpeace has also been critical of Amazon’s commitment to renewable energy. In a report last February, the group said the company is wavering on a pledge to move to 100 percent renewable energy to run its data centers.
Bezos said on Thursday that Amazon would aim to reach 80 percent renewable energy by 2024 and 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 on its path to net zero carbon by 2040. So far, Amazon has launched 15 utility-scale wind and solar renewable energy projects and installed more than 50 solar rooftops on fulfillment centers and sorting centers worldwide.
The company is also ordering 100,000 fully electric delivery vehicles from Plymouth, Mich.,-based Rivian, a company in which Amazon invested $ 440 million. Amazon expects to start delivering with those vans in 2021, and Bezos said will be fully deployed by 2024.
Thursday’s announcement also included news of a $ 100 million donation toward reforestation efforts. In partnership with the Nature Conservancy, the Right Now Climate Fund will focus on protecting forests, wetlands and peatlands to remove millions of metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
Amazon will also launch a new sustainability website to report on its commitments and performance. Information will include Amazon’s carbon footprint and other sustainability metrics tied to the goals of the Climate Pledge.
Bezos said he did not yet know what the full costs of Amazon’s new sustainability efforts will be but that Amazon would also be lobbying for climate-focused policies on a “case-by-case” basis. He stopped short of fully embracing the policies of the Green New Deal, for example.
As Amazon works toward the launch of a second headquarters in Northern Virginia, Bezos said the company had “an opportunity to do that right,” including focusing on air conditioning and heating solutions that would fall in line with the company’s new climate goals.
Asked about the global climate protests expected on Friday, Bezos said people “should be passionate about this issue,” even if he doesn’t agree with all of the proposals put forth by his employees or others. He called on other companies of Amazon’s scale and influence to jump on board.
“There will be people who will be slow to take up this challenge,” Bezos said. “But I hope the major players will take it up quickly. The need for speed is very great here.”