WASHINGTON — 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, Sept. 19, to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early.
Speaking with former United Nations 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 others' supply chains," Bezos said. "We're signing up to help do that."
(Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Bezos' 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.
"When it comes to climate change, it is critical that national policy as well as corporate decision-making and planning is science driven," Figueres said, following a presentation by Bezos that highlighted melting ice sheets, warming oceans and extreme summer temperatures in Alaska.
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.
The company has long been a target for environmental activists, who claim it's done too little to offset the emissions it produces. And Amazon has resisted disclosing the impact on the climate its business has had, previously declining, for example, to disclose its carbon footprint to CDP, formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, a framework for corporate reporting on environmental issues.
And Amazon initiatives to speed delivery, jetting products quickly to warehouses and deploying a fleet of delivery vehicles to customers' homes, will also likely 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 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, though that can also be attributed to reducing costs.
Last 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've formed under the name Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, are pushing the company to set more aggressive targets. In a post 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% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% 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 sort centers on the world.
Thursday's announcement also included $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.
This article was written by Jay Greene and Rachel Siegel, reporters for The Washington Post.