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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced a new Climate Pledge today in Washington D.C. (Amazon Photo)

At a news conference this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced the creation of a Climate Pledge that sets ambitious greenhouse gas emission goals for the tech giant and urges other companies to do the same.

The announcement comes amid a grassroots movement from Amazon employees pushing the company to take action on the issue, a day in advance of a planned walkout targeting climate change. It also follows through on Amazon’s earlier promise to address its environmental impact. Amazon is the first signatory of the agreement that calls on companies to reach carbon neutrality across their businesses within the next 21 years — a goal that’s a decade ahead of the 2050 deadline set by the Paris Accord.

“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,” said Bezos in a prepared statement. “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.”

The announcement puts specific dates and goals to earlier, more vague ambitions. Amazon also launched a sustainability website to bring previously lacking transparency to its actions.

  • The site shares details of Amazon’s carbon footprint: 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent released in 2018. (The U.S. emitted roughly 5,000 million metric tons of CO2e in 2015 while the UK, for example, emitted 389 million metric tons of CO2e.)
  • The company pledged to reach 80% renewable energy for its global infrastructure within five years, and use entirely renewable power by 2030.
  • On its path to those goals, Amazon reported that it has 15 wind and solar-power farms internationally that are already operating or in the works.
  • In July, the company announced that it had installed more than 50 solar rooftops on centers worldwide where orders are fulfilled and sorted, beating a goal set for next year.

“This is a really big deal, and completely groundbreaking and potentially game changing, in terms of private sector leadership on climate,” said Sue Reid, vice president of climate and energy for Boston-based Ceres, a nonprofit that promotes corporate environmental sustainability.

“A commitment from someone like Jeff Bezos, who has the potential to mobilize his peer group and make a significant, influential impact, is really important,” said Paula DiPerna, a special advisor to the CDP, an international organization that helps track carbon emissions.

Amazon’s news comes days before the United Nation’s Climate Action Summit on Monday, and the start of the annual Climate Week in New York City, beginning on Tuesday. The events bring together leaders in industry, government and nonprofits.

(Amazon Photo)

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, an advocacy group formed by some of the employees, applauded the news, but made clear they’re not taking pressure off the company.

“Amazon’s newly announced Climate Pledge is a huge win for Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, and we’re thrilled at what workers [have] been able to achieve in less than a year. But we know it’s not enough. The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world,” the group said in a prepared statement. “Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets to continue the fight for a livable future.”

Included in Bezos’ announcement was the news that Amazon will be purchasing 100,000 electric vans from Rivian, following reports from earlier this year that the company was investing in the automaker.

Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of operations, cheered the update in a tweet today: “Our fleet is Electrifying! Thrilled to announce the order of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles — the largest order of electric delivery vehicles ever. Look out for the new vans starting in 2021.”

Bezos also unveiled the Right Now Climate Fund, a $100 million investment in forest and wetland preservation and reforestation efforts. The fund is in partnership with The Nature Conservancy.

“Bold steps by big companies will make a huge difference in the development of new technologies and industries to support a low carbon economy,” Christiana Figueres, the UN’s former climate change chief and founding partner of Global Optimism, said in a statement. Figueres joined Bezos at the press conference.

Amazon user experience designer Emily Cunningham speaks at a rally outside of the company’s shareholders’ meeting in May 2019. Employees in support of the climate resolution wore white to the event. (Amazon Employees for Climate Justice Photo)

The company’s stepped-up climate strategy follows repeated and ongoing calls for leadership made by Amazon employees themselves.

“I’m assuming that the employees of Amazon were the core impetus for this action,” DiPerna said.

Amazon faces significant challenges in meeting the carbon reduction goals as its energy needs keep expanding. AWS is building more cloud data centers in the U.S. and internationally. And its shipments to consumers — which climate experts say will be the hardest to address in terms of reducing carbon emissions — are potentially moving in the direction of being more, not less, difficult to make climate friendly.

In April, the company announced plans to speed up its Prime free two-day shipping program to one-day delivery. However, at today’s event, Bezos made the case that “shorter delivery times end up being less carbon-intensive than longer delivery times,” according to USA Today reporter Nathan Bomey via Twitter. Bezos argued that greenhouse gas-intensive air transportation is not feasible for faster delivery. Amazon’s earlier Shipment Zero initiative pledged that half of its retail deliveries would be carbon neutral by 2030.

One of the concerns previously shared by climate experts was whether Amazon would be sufficiently transparent in how it calculated its carbon footprint. The company has disclosed some information on its math and received independent verification of its calculations from Bureau Veritas North America, an international business that helps companies comply with a range of standards and regulations.

The largest line item for Amazon’s emissions is 13.89 million metric tons CO2e from what it calls “other indirect emissions (e.g., third-party transportation, packaging, upstream energy related)” — or in other words, the energy needed to pack and deliver billions of packages each year.

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