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caption: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the company's climate initiative Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces the company's climate initiative Thursday at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Credit: Getty Images for Amazon

Amazon reveals dirty secret, promises quick action for climate

How dirty is Amazon’s business?

According to the company’s first public disclosure of its climate impacts in its 25-year history, Amazon and its suppliers added the equivalent of 44 million tons of carbon dioxide to the global atmosphere last year.

That’s more than all the cars, trucks, planes, ships and trains in Washington state, where Amazon is based.

It’s also more than 7 Seattle’s worth of pollution.

It’s 3 Googles of pollution, or nearly 3 Microsofts.

Amazon had about one-ninth the climate impact of Peabody Energy, the United States’ largest coal producer.

Activists and institutional investors have pressured Amazon for years to reveal its climate impacts, as hundreds of other large corporations have done.

Amazon did so for the first time on Thursday as CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled the company’s pledge to zero its net impact on the world’s climate by 2040.

“Welcome to the club,” Paula DiPerna with CDP, a nonprofit that represents institutional investors and presses corporations for transparency on their environmental impacts. “Better late than never.”

DiPerna said Amazon had done a “fantastic” job of tallying its pollution and the pollution it indirectly causes by, for example, purchasing electricity to run the data centers for Amazon Web Services or paying other companies to deliver goods to customers.

“It's an extremely important initiative that was catalyzed by employees and by public pressure and by the science,” DiPerna said.

“That was really surprising and, frankly, a huge win for us,” Roshni Naidu with Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said.

The group has been pushing Amazon to own up to its carbon problem and to use its corporate might to fight climate change. The campaign culminated in more than 1,500 Amazon employees pledging to walk out on their work on Friday to join a global climate strike.

Massive demonstrations are expected around the world on Friday, including at Amazon headquarters in Seattle.

Naidu welcomed Amazon’s announcement but said employees would still walk out.

“Because the U.S. is one of the high-polluting countries in the world, we need to be a leader in making sure that we pollute much, much, much less than we do right now,” she said.

The employees are calling for Amazon to achieve net carbon neutrality by 2030 and to drop business with climate deniers and oil companies.

DiPerna said the big carbon reveal could have come much sooner, Amazon’s explanations of the difficulty of tallying the carbon pollution from its sprawling business empire notwithstanding.

“That is an excuse that people tend to provide,” she said. “Greenhouse gas accounting is as old as the hills. It is not hard.”

“I don't think we should be congratulating ourselves when we take steps we should have taken 20 or 25 years ago,” DiPerna said.

Amazon’s climate pledge includes achieving “net zero” pollution, through a combination of actual emission reductions and purchases of offsets, by the year 2040, 10 years sooner than the Paris climate accords call for.

Carbon offsets have been plagued by reforestation efforts and other projects that fail to remove as much carbon from the atmosphere as they promised.

“It's going to be challenging, but if we can do it, anyone can do it, and we know we have to do it," Bezos said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Thursday.

“The Paris accords are more of a political compromise than a scientific necessity,” 350 Seattle activist and software developer Rebecca Deutsch said. “And even the dates in the Paris accords were measured more for a 2 degree warming limit, and we know that that’s still going to result in millions of lives lost and immeasurable damage.”

Still, Deutsch said, "It's an exciting day."

"It shows that organizing works, frankly," she said.

“The real crisis is that we have lost the 10 or 15 years when addressing the complexities of the issue could have been addressed more easily,” DiPerna said.

Amazon announced plans to buy 100,000 electric delivery vans and invest $100 million in reforestation efforts with the Nature Conservancy.

Amazon's annual revenue last year was $233 billion.

Amazon employees said they hoped their internal activism would spur similar efforts inside other businesses.

“At the end of the day, companies are just tons of little employees working together to make something greater. And so it should reflect what the employees want,” Naidu said.