During a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. this morning, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos — alongside former United Nations climate leaders — unveiled the Climate Pledge, where businesses commit to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years ahead of schedule. Amazon will become the first signatory, pledging to regularly measure and report greenhouse gas emissions while implementing decarbonization strategies through efficiency improvements, renewable energy, and materials reductions.
Bezos also announced a new $100 million reforestation effort in partnership with The Nature Conservancy — the Right Now Climate Fund — as well as a new order for 100,000 electric delivery vans to move away from diesel vans. Coinciding with these, Amazon launched a new sustainability website to report on its commitments, initiatives, and performance.
The aforementioned vans will come from Rivian, which plans to begin deploying them starting in 2021. (Amazon led a $700 million funding round in Rivian earlier this year.) Amazon plans to have 10,000 of the new electric vehicles on the road as early as 2022 and all 100,000 vehicles on the road by 2040, which it says will save an estimated 4 million metric tons of carbon per year by 2030.
“[Earth is the] best planet in the solar system. We need to take care of it,” he said, adding that the goal is for 80% of Amazon’s energy use to be renewable by 2024 and 100% by 2030. “It’s really something that can only be done in collaboration with other large companies, because we’re all part of each other’s supply chains.”
The announcement came a day before workers around the world, including more than 1,000 employed by Amazon, intend to strike to bring attention to climate change. And it comes months after more than 4,200 Amazon workers called on Amazon to rethink how it addresses and contributes to a warming planet, pointing to an analysis by climate group 350 Seattle that found the company’s shipping business emitted 19.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in 2017. Greenpeace similarly dinged the company in a recent report, noting that its Virginia datacenters are powered by only 12% renewable energy versus Facebook’s 37% and Microsoft’s 34%.
As a refresher, the Paris Agreement was negotiated by representatives of 196 state parties at the 21st Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC in Le Bourget, France in December 2015. Its long-term goal is to keep the increase in global average temperature “well below” 2°C above preindustrial levels and encourage efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels. In 2017, the Trump Administration announced the U.S. intends to withdraw as soon as it is legally eligible to do so, as early as November 2020.
Amazon in February said it hopes to make 50% of all shipments to customers with net zero carbon in the next 11 years as part of an initiative it’s calling Shipment Zero. That initiative built on the Seattle retailer’s ongoing work to minimize its contributions to greenhouse gases, Dave Clark, senior vice president of worldwide operations at Amazon, explained in a blog post.
“With improvements in electric vehicles, aviation biofuels, reusable packaging, and renewable energy, for the first time we can now see a path to net zero carbon delivery of shipments to customers,” he wrote. “[I]t won’t be easy to achieve this goal, but it’s worth being focused and stubborn on this vision and we’re committed to seeing it through.”
Amazon has over 200 scientists, engineers, and product designers dedicated to “inventing new ways” to “leverage [its] scale” for the “good of customers and the planet,” Clark said, and has engaged in an “extensive” project over the past two years to develop a model that provides internal teams with data to help them identify ways to reduce carbon use. The tech giant operates a network of 15 solar and wind farms and has installed solar panels on a portion of its fulfillment center rooftops, and it’s invested $10 million a project finance fund — Closed Loop Fund — that invests in sustainable manufacturing technologies and recycling infrastructure.
On the Amazon Web Services side of its business, Amazon committed in 2014 to 100% renewable energy usage, but it didn’t set a deadline. It says that 50% of the cloud division is powered by renewable energy currently.
Shipment Zero — and Amazon’s broader goal of using 100% renewable energy — comes as transportation overtakes power plants as the top producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, medium- and heavy-duty diesel trucks generate close to a quarter of the transportation footprint; they emit four times more nitrogen dioxide pollution and 22 times more particulates on average than cars that run on gasoline. Package-carrying planes like those in Amazon Air‘s fleet are also responsible for a sizable share of pollutants — close to 2.5% of carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, estimates Manchester Metropolitan University’s Center for Aviation, Transport, and the Environment, a number that’s expected to grow between two to four times by 2050.
Ecommerce actually stands to benefit the environment compared with brick-and-mortar retail, as it turns out, but only if the deliveries are highly optimized. In a 2013 study, Anne Goodchild, director of the University of Washington’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center, found that grocery delivery trucks emitted between 20% and 75% less carbon dioxide per customer on average than passenger vehicles if grocery stores could choose drop-off times and optimize routes.
In any case, there’s lots of cardboard to contend with. In 2017, domestic consumption of cardboard materials rose 3.5%, and 300,000 fewer tons of cardboard were recycled in the U.S. than previous years. But Amazon says it’s making progress on this front — it told BuzzFeed last year that its Frustration-Free Packaging Program, which encourages merchants to use 100% recyclable packaging, has reduced packaging waste by 16% and “avoided 305 million shipping boxes in 2017 alone.”