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Amazon employee activists say the company’s big climate pledge is good—but not enough

More than a thousand of them plan to walk out of work today to press the company to go farther, especially in ending contracts with oil and gas companies.

Amazon employee activists say the company’s big climate pledge is good—but not enough
[Photo: Patrick Schneider/Unsplash]

When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced yesterday that the company would reach the goals of the Paris climate agreement 10 years early—getting to net zero carbon emissions by 2040 instead of 2050—Amazon employees who have been pushing for climate action said that it was a “huge step forward.” But more than 1,500 employees still plan to walk out of corporate offices today as part of the Global Climate Strike, saying that Amazon still hasn’t gone far enough.

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“This is definitely a big win for Amazon workers and for the planet,” says Jacob Adamson, a software developer at Amazon and part of a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, which first filed a proposed shareholder resolution last fall calling for Amazon to adopt a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. At the company’s annual shareholder meeting, the resolution failed. But more than 8,200 employees signed an open letter urging the company to act. And Bezos seemed to listen. “It’s clearly a direct reaction to the work we’ve been doing. That said, there’s still a lot more that Amazon can do.”

The employees’ open letter called for Amazon to make a plan to reach zero emissions “within the timeline required by science” and to set a date for reaching the goal of 100% renewable electricity. Yesterday, Bezos announced that the company would run on renewable energy by 2030. The company’s pledge to meet Paris climate goals early is also a major step. But Amazon workers argue that the company could move more quickly and that it left out some key actions.

“We need to stop making software for oil and gas companies that helps them extract fossil fuels from the ground,” says Adamson. “That’s one of the most important things that we can do to stop carbon emissions—to keep the fossil fuels on the ground. Secondly, we need to stop donating money to politicians that deny climate change. Last year alone, we donated money to 60 politicians that consistently voted against climate change legislation.” He argues that the company can also help lead the world’s transition to more sustainable transportation, even if that transition is challenging. “Amazon as a company is ambitious. We’re bold. We pride ourselves on being leaders. We can simply solve problems that people believe are too difficult and we couldn’t have imagined solutions for five or 10 years ago.”

The move to net zero emissions by 2040 is ambitious—and faster than many other companies. But employees say that the company still has a responsibility to go faster, since it’s technologically possible. “I think it’s important to do everything we can to be as ambitious as possible,” Adamson says. He expects that the group’s success to date will make even more employees show up at the strike today, and inspire other tech company employees to pressure their own companies (hundreds of Google employees plan to join the strike.) “Because we’ve demonstrated that we are capable of achieving what we want to achieve, and that organizing in this way works, that a lot of people will be inspired by that. And a lot more people will be inspired by that and come out today.”

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About the author

Adele Peters is a staff writer at Fast Company who focuses on solutions to some of the world's largest problems, from climate change to homelessness. Previously, she worked with GOOD, BioLite, and the Sustainable Products and Solutions program at UC Berkeley, and contributed to the second edition of the bestselling book "Worldchanging: A User's Guide for the 21st Century."

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