How Amazon workers forced Jeff Bezos’ hand
Unlike some of its rival technology giants, Amazon.com Inc. has never claimed a loftier purpose than selling its shoppers what they want, quickly and cheaply. Its mission statement: to be “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”
As political storms have overtaken Facebook and Alphabet’s Google in the last few years, Amazon’s pursuit of commerce over utopian visions has mostly served it well, insulating it from charges of bias or hypocrisy and helping it remain one of Americans’ most trusted brands. But, in the last few months, a growing contingent of employees has been calling for the company to embrace the mantle of higher corporate responsibility and help combat the perils of climate change.
On Friday, hundreds of Amazon employees walked out of the firm’s Seattle headquarters, and from Amazon offices in Los Angeles, San Francisco and other U.S. cities, as part of a global “climate strike” also including employees of other companies, students and youth groups. The effort was timed ahead of a United Nations Climate Action Summit to be held today in New York.
The group that’s leading the Amazon walkout — Amazon Employees for Climate Justice — has spent this year urging Amazon Chief Executive Jeff Bezos and the rest of senior management to take more urgent steps, and the workers’ efforts are a key reason Amazon’s overall environmental footprint increasingly is coming under scrutiny.
Their protests appeared to pay off Thursday when Bezos announced that Amazon would significantly step up its effort to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels to power its massive operations.
Under a new Climate Pledge, Amazon is committed to the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, or a decade earlier than called for under the United Nations Paris Agreement, Bezos said.
As part of that initiative, he said, Amazon will be using 100% renewable energy companywide by 2030, a goal the employees’ group has been seeking.
Amazon will order 100,000 electric-powered delivery trucks from the automaker Rivian as part of the effort, Bezos said. Amazon earlier had made a $440-million investment in Rivian.
“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,” Bezos said in a statement, adding that Amazon is pushing for other companies to join the pledge.
The employees’ group responded on Twitter by saying that Amazon’s pledge was “a huge win” for the group and that “we’re thrilled at what the workers have achieved in under a year.”
“But we know it’s not enough,” the group said. “The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets.”
The heightened focus on Amazon comes as Americans are increasingly concerned about the effects of climate change, according to a survey early this year by the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.
Amazon’s slowness in switching to renewable energy has been one focus of its climate critics.