Amazon’s Climate Pledges Didn’t Stop Employees From Taking to the Streets

Anna Kaplan
Karen Ducey/Getty

Hundreds of Amazon employees were joined by staffers from Google and Microsoft on Friday in a walkout protesting inaction on climate change. The demonstration saw about 1,500 employees take to the streets near Amazon’s downtown Seattle headquarters. 

“To all the tech workers who can no longer sit at our desks and be silent as we speed toward global ecological disaster,” Weston Fribley, a software developer at Amazon, said to the crowd Friday. “We are tech workers with a common purpose, acting together to push our companies to take responsibility for their impact on the world.” 

Amazon Employees for Climate Justice outlined three demands for the company when it announced it would be taking part in the Global Climate Strike: for Amazon to have net zero emissions by 2030, to stop giving campaign donations to politicians who deny climate change is happening, and to stop offering custom cloud-computing services to oil and gas companies to aid in finding and extracting more fossil fuels.

The Global Climate Strike, a coordinated movement of hundreds of demonstrations across the world, also provided an opportunity for a sly preemptive move by CEO Jeff Bezos just one day before the employee walkout. 

Bezos announced a series of proposals to diminish Amazon’s carbon footprint, which currently sits at about 44.4 million metric tons per year, according to data released by the company Thursday. This figure ranks the company within the top 150 to 200 polluters in the world, the New York Times reports.

Amazon committed to meeting the Paris Climate Accord 10 years early and becoming carbon-neutral by 2040 at an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Thursday. 

“We want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way,” Bezos said at the event. “One of the things we know about Amazon as a role model for this is that it’s a difficult challenge for us because we have deep, large physical infrastructure. So, if we can do this, anyone can do this.”

To meet its goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2040, Bezos said Amazon will run 80 percent of its “global infrastructure” on renewable energy by 2024, and 100 percent by 2030. The company also announced in a blog post that it plans to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vehicles that will be delivering packages by 2021, and to have a full fleet of trucks by 2030.

However, Bezos’ proposals fell short of most of the demands made by employees participating in the walkout. Amazon employees demand that the company has no carbon emissions by 2030, and the company committed to becoming carbon-neutral by 2040. 

Bezos said that Amazon would still continue to sell its cloud services to the oil and gas industry at the event in Washington D.C. He also added that Amazon was examining whether its political donations were going to “active climate deniers,” but he stopped short of saying that the company would not give any future contributions.

Bobby Gordon, a finance manager at Amazon, told The Daily Beast he was pleasantly surprised by Bezos’ announcement, but he wasn’t completely satisfied with the outlined proposals.

“We saw the steps taken and suggested by the announcement as a big win for us, but there’s still a lot more to do beyond to keep the planet livable and safe, so that’s why we’re out here today,” Gordon said. “In particular, the Paris climate agreement is a political agreement, and not a scientific agreement. We need to follow more closely to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s plan for protecting the planet.” 

Amazon announced Thursday that they are the first signatory of a new pact called the “Climate Pledge.” The pledge includes measuring and publicly reporting greenhouse gas emissions on a regular basis, which many other companies, including Google, have done for years, but Amazon has declined to do in the past.

Venkatesh Srinivas, a software engineer at Google, told The Daily Beast that he was pleased with Google’s announcement that it would be purchasing 1.6 gigawatts of large scale renewable power. But it’s not enough, he said.

“I don’t love numbers without context,” Srinivas said. He said that Google cranks at about 37 gigawatts every morning, so the new renewables only power about 1/37th of the company’s output. “That only covers the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Wisconsin,” he added.

Sam Kern, a UX engineer at Google, said the tech industry has helped solve a lot of problems, but has ushered in a set of brand new ones. 

“We help bring together families—we help separate families,” Kern said. “Tech has been governed by the impulse to reshape and disrupt, often in the name of our users. We pass signs in the hallways telling us to put the user first. Now, putting the user first means doing everything we can to fight for their homes, for their families, for their futures.”

Kern spoke to 1,500 employees who walked out of the office in downtown Seattle on Friday, culminating in a youth-led march to City Hall. Employees carried signs depicting the organizers’ three goals, and took part in protest songs and chants. 

While most Amazon employees seemed to think the direction of their company’s announcement was promising, many echoed the same sentiment: it’s only a start.

“Plans must be implemented, and as we all know, implementation details do matter,” Fribley said to laughter from the crowd. “Amazon is still funding lobbyists and politicians who deny the climate reality. We still have work to do.”

Srinivas agreed. “We have this motto inside Google: ‘Let’s celebrate, now back to work,’ Srinivas said. “It’s the same kind of thing. That’s fantastic, now we have to do a lot more to do.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

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