3,500 Amazon Employees Challenge Jeff Bezos To Take Real Action On Climate Change

Photo: Chip Somodevilla, Getty

In the latest in a string of protests from inside major tech firms, thousands of Amazon employees have signed their names to an open letter calling on their employer to do more to combat its carbon emissions and to end its relationships with oil and gas giants.

“Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis,” the letter states. But even the plan behind forcing this issue to the fore took no small bit of imagination.

As the New York Times previously reported, stock options—a popular perk of tech companies—allowed around a dozen Amazon workers to use their position to file shareholder petitions demanding a reduction in fossil fuel dependence at the end of last year.

The number of Amazonians advocating for these policy changes, at least stridently enough to sign their name to today’s public letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is now more than 3,5oo.

These sorts of petitions usually come externally, from activist investors, such as the OpenMIC coalition, which is currently lobbying the company to stop selling its facial recognition to governmental and law enforcement clients.

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In 2014, Amazon announced that it would power its rapidly expanding fleet of data centres with 100 per cent renewable energy. Apple, Facebook, and Google made similar pledges two years before that, and pressure from consumers and environmental groups drove Amazon to follow suit. For the next two years, the tech giant made admirable strides toward achieving its goal, bankrolling large solar plants and wind farms. Then, it stopped.

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At least one of the catalysing events this growing movement was an investigation published by Gizmodo this week, which revealed the extent of Amazon’s work with oil and gas companies.

When concerns about these relationships were brought up to members of Amazon’s sustainability team, they seemed totally unaware any such partnership existed, according to the New York Times.

These 3,500+ Amazonians, operating under the title Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, are joined by others, such as Google Walkout for Real Change and other unnamed groups, within big tech firms advocating for greater autonomy over who their employers do business with and what kinds of work they believe is morally odious.

Google workers have been particularly successful, making headway on removing forced arbitration agreements for employees, giving benefits to temp workers, and ending the company’s involvement in a controversial Pentagon-led drone program.

While Amazon has historically been slow to react to these sorts of internal demands, the company quickly responded to our request for comment—primarily by highlighting its climate-focused efforts.

This includes its Shipment Zero initiative, which a spokesperson described in an statement emailed to Gizmodo as “our vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50 per cent of all shipments net zero by 2030,” as well as its pledge to release a “company-wide carbon footprint, along with related goals and programs” this year, among other energy and sustainability efforts.

“In operations alone, we have over 200 scientists, engineers, and product designers dedicated exclusively to inventing new ways to leverage our scale for the good of customers and the planet,” the spokesperson said. “We have a long term commitment to powering our global infrastructure using 100 per cent renewable energy.”

The Times reports that the company’s investors may have an opportunity to vote on the employee-submitted investor petition this month.

The Amazon Employees for Climate Justice letter is reprinted below; its citations and the full list of signatories can be found on Medium:

Jeff Bezos and Board of Directors:

We, the undersigned 3,541* Amazon employees, ask that you adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan that incorporates the principles outlined in this letter.

Amazon has the resources and scale to spark the world’s imagination and redefine what is possible and necessary to address the climate crisis.We believe this is a historic opportunity for Amazon to stand with employees and signal to the world that we’re ready to be a climate leader.

Climate change is an existential threat. The 2018 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report predicts that a warming of 2° Celsius, which we’re currently on track to surpass, will threaten the lives of hundreds of millions of people and put thousands of species at risk of extinction [1,2] .

We’re already seeing devastating climate impacts: unprecedented flooding in India and Mozambique, dry water wells in Africa, coastal displacement in Asia, wildfires and floods in North America, and crop failure in Latin America [3,4,5,6,7,8,9]. Vulnerable communities least responsible for the climate crisis are already paying the highest price [10,11].

Amazon’s leadership is urgently needed. We’re a company that understands the importance of thinking big, taking ownership of hard problems, and earning trust. These traits have made Amazon a top global innovator but have been missing from the company’s approach to climate change. For example:

  • We haven’t disclosed a company-wide plan to reach zero carbon emissions within the timeline required by science. Our goal to reach 100 per cent renewable energy does not have a date for completion. In addition, Shipment Zero does not commit to a decrease in emissions compared to current levels.

    Given Amazon’s rate of growth, reaching 50 per cent net-zero shipments by 2030 could still be an increase in emissions compared to today [12].Shipment Zero only commits to net carbon reductions, which allows us to continue to pollute; we recently ordered 20,000 diesel vans whose emissions will need to be offset with carbon credits [13].

    Offsets can entail forest management policies that displace Indigenous communities, and they do nothing to reduce our diesel pollution which disproportionately harms communities of colour [14,15].We have an AWS for Oil & Gas initiative devoted to helping fossil fuel companies accelerate and expand oil and gas extraction [16,17].

    To avert catastrophic warming, the science is clear: we must keep fossil fuels in the ground [18,19].We donate to climate-delaying legislators: While Amazon has joined a variety of sustainability organisations like the Corporate Eco Forum and the American Council on Renewable Energy, we donated to 68 members of congress in 2018 who voted against climate legislation 100 per cent of the time [20,21].Our sustainability goals lack context.

    For example, we’ve set a goal of at least 50 solar installations in warehouse facilities by 2020. This represents only 6% of buildings in our global fulfillment network and a fraction of our overall carbon footprint [22].

Our customer obsession requires climate obsession. This necessitates an immediate company-wide plan addressing climate change that demonstrates the following principles:

  1. Public goals and timelines consistent with science and the IPCC report [23]. Emissions must be cut in half by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach zero by 2050. Goals must span all organisations and businesses, and cover the full supply chain.

    A complete transition away from fossil fuels rather than relying on carbon offsets.Prioritisation of climate impact when making business decisions, including ending all custom solutions specifically designed for oil and gas extraction and exploration.Reduction of harm to the most vulnerable communities first. The pollution we generate is not equally distributed, and climate impact will be felt first and hardest by Black, Indigenous, and other communities of colour, particularly in the Global South.

    We must prioritise our pollution reduction in these communities.Advocacy for local, federal, and international policies that reduce overall carbon emissions in line with the IPCC report and withholding of support from policy makers who delay action on climate change.Fair treatment of all employees during climate disruptions and extreme weather events. Unsafe or inaccessible workplaces should not be a reason to withhold pay, terminate, or otherwise penalise employees — including hourly and contract workers.

In our mission to become “Earth’s most customer-centric company,” we believe our climate impact must be a top consideration in everything we do. We have the power to shift entire industries, inspire global action on climate, and lead on the issue of our lifetimes.

We ask that you, as leaders responsible for our strategic direction, adopt the climate plan resolution and release a company-wide plan that incorporates the six principles above.

Sincerely,

3,541* Amazon employees

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