Jeff Bezos unveils Amazon's sweeping plan to address climate change

As part of the announcement, Amazon has agreed to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans from vehicle manufacturer Rivian
Image: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces The Climate Pledge in Washington on Sept. 19, 2019.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announces The Climate Pledge in Washington on Sept. 19, 2019.Paul Morigi / Getty Images for Amazon

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By Annie Palmer, CNBC

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos unveiled a sweeping new plan on Thursday to tackle climate change, committing the retail giant to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years ahead of schedule.

He also pledged to measure and report the company’s emissions on a regular basis, implement decarbonization strategies and alter its business strategies to offset remaining emissions.

Bezos expects 80 percent of Amazon’s energy use to come from renewable sources by 2024, up from a current rate of 40 percent, before transitioning to zero emissions by 2030.

“We want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way,” Bezos said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. “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.”

As part of the announcement, Amazon has agreed to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans from vehicle manufacturer Rivian.

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Bezos said the first electric delivery vans will be on the road by 2021, and he estimates 100,000 vehicles will be deployed by 2024. The move builds on Rivian’s $700 million investment round in February, which was led by Amazon. Amazon has invested $440 million in Rivian, the announcement said.

Amazon will work with companies in its supply chain to help them decarbonize and reach the same goals outlined in the plan. It also plans to meet with other large corporations to get them to sign onto the agreement.

Dara O’Rourke, a senior principal scientist on Amazon’s sustainability team, said the company built a “comprehensive” carbon accounting system that helps it pull data from its various businesses.

“Amazon is as complex as many companies combined,” O’Rourke said. “That forced us to build one of the most sophisticated carbon accounting systems in the world. We had to build a system that had the granular data, but at an Amazon scale.”

Bezos’ plan comes as Amazon faces mounting pressure from employees to address its environmental impact.

At Amazon’s annual shareholder meeting in May, thousands of employees submitted a proposal asking Bezos to develop a comprehensive climate-change plan and reduce its carbon footprint, though it was ultimately rejected. The proposal was built on an employee letter published in April that accused Amazon of donating to climate-delaying legislators and urged the company to transition away from fossil fuels.

Additionally, over 1,000 Amazon employees have said they plan to walk out on Friday as part of the Global Climate Strike, of which Google and Microsoft employees also plan to participate. The employee walkout represents the first strike at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters in the company’s 25-year history, according to Wired.

When asked about the employee walkouts, Bezos said that while he doesn’t support all of Amazon employees’ demands, he understands why people are passionate about climate change. Among the specific demands Bezos said he doesn’t support is ending AWS’ cloud contracts with fossil fuel companies.

“The global strike tomorrow, I think it’s totally understandable,” he said. “We don’t want this to be the tragedy of the commons. We all have to work together on this.”

He added that Amazon is committed to looking at its campaign contributions to determine whether they include “active climate deniers.” The company also intends to focus more lobbying efforts in Washington around political solutions to climate change, Bezos said.

The company has taken previous steps to address climate change. In February, Amazon announced it would make half of all its shipments carbon neutral by 2030 by using more eco-friendly packaging, using more renewable energy like wind power, as well as using electric vans for package deliveries. As part of that effort, which it calls “Shipment Zero,” Amazon said it would share its company-wide carbon footprint for the first time later this year.