Amazon’s Climate Pledge Was a Lie

Jeff Bezos pledged four years ago that Amazon would lead the way on carbon reduction. Since then, the firm’s emissions have risen by 40 percent — and its use of creative accounting suggests that the real figure is far higher.

Jeff Bezos attends The Lord Of The Rings: The Rings Of Power world premiere on August 30, 2022 in London, England. (Dave J Hogan / Dave J. Hogan / Getty Images)

In July, as the world recorded its hottest month on record, Amazon released its sustainability report. To great fanfare, the company celebrated its first decrease in total emissions since reporting began in 2018. The decline was a mere 0.4 percent to 71.3 million metric tons. At that rate, it would take Amazon until 2378 to reach its stated 2040 target of net-zero emissions.

Amazon is failing our planet. That’s what became more than clear at the first-ever Summit to Make Amazon Pay, a global gathering of workers, trade unionists, climate activists, civil society leaders, and parliamentarians like us that took place in Manchester last month. And it is crucial to understand the multiple ways that Amazon fuels climate breakdown — and how a broad labor-climate coalition, and we as their allies in our parliaments, can put an end to it.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos announced the firm’s net-zero target in 2019, under pressure from a walkout by thousands of Amazon employees at its Seattle headquarters. Bezos accompanied this with a “Climate Pledge,” saying: “We want to use our scale and our scope to lead the way.”

He was right about the company’s size and resulting carbon footprint but wrong about leadership. Amazon — which is keenly aware of the danger of its decarbonization plans failing — is by far the biggest emitter of the “Big Five” tech companies, and its overall emissions have risen by almost 40 percent since announcing the Climate Pledge.

While that’s already a major jump, in reality, it is likely even higher: unlike competitors such as Target, Amazon uses a creative form of accounting to massively understate its carbon footprint. In its carbon methodology, Amazon acknowledges that it only includes “Amazon-branded product manufacturing, such as Echo devices, Kindles e-readers, Amazon Basics, Whole Foods Market brands, and other Amazon Private Brands products.” But this is just the tip of Amazon’s carbon iceberg: a mere 1 percent of total sales.

The other big announcement in Amazon’s sustainability report was its intention to tackle supply chain emissions. They account for more than three-quarters of its total emissions. But with Amazon not counting the sale of 99 percent of products sold and distributed directly by Amazon or by third-party sellers, most of the emissions the corporation is responsible for will remain unreported. Rather than leading on decarbonization, Amazon is creating a dynamic that threatens to drive down the environmental reporting and standards of its competitors.

Which brings us to Amazon’s so-called leadership. According to its website, over 424 businesses and organizations across 38 countries have joined the Climate Pledge since 2019. As Amazon itself is failing to live up to its stated ambitions, the pledge risks becoming not much more than greenwashing — and showing other corporations that you can get away with it. Some of the big businesses that have signed up to the Pledge, such as PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Unilever, and Iberdrola, have since engaged in greenwashing, or even walked back on their net-zero promises.

For Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, the group of Amazon tech workers who organized the walkout in 2019, the final straw was Amazon killing off a program called “Shipment Zero.” Launched as part of the Climate Pledge in 2019, it aimed at making half of all its shipments carbon neutral by the end of this decade. This prompted tech workers to walk out again at the start of the summer after a pandemic-induced hiatus.

But it’s not just scale and scope that demand a reckoning with Amazon’s environmental record.

Apart from the plastics and packaging waste, Amazon destroys many millions of new and unsold products every week. For instance, in the United Kingdom, an Amazon worker leaked a spreadsheet showing more than 124,000 new and unused items including laptops, smart TVs, hairdryers, headphones, drones, and books all marked for destruction — just at one warehouse. Some estimates suggest Amazon may be responsible for dumping about one billion items per year. That’s why our countries, France and Ireland, have introduced bans on Amazon and other companies dumping new and unused products.

Then there are Amazon’s data centers. Amazon’s cloud technology arm, Amazon Web Services, occupies a third of the global cloud computing market, making it by far the largest cloud services provider in the world. A huge part of the digital economy runs on Amazon’s infrastructure, ranging from underwater sea cables to data centers. And Amazon markets itself as the “biggest corporate buyer of renewable energy” to power the cloud. These purchases are where the bulk of emissions reductions came from last year. But the company has a record of inadequate transparency and broken commitments to renewable energy expansion.

Amazon’s hunger for relentless expansion may make a whole country exceed its carbon budget. The company’s plans for constructing three new data centers in Ireland this year would make it virtually impossible for the country to reach its climate targets.

Moreover, while Ireland’s state-owned electricity operator, EirGrid, warns of extreme instability in Ireland’s national electricity grid and the risk of rolling blackouts, Amazon’s Irish data centers in total would need more electricity than a million Irish homes. Plans for more Amazon data centers had to be halted due to the threat they posed to the electricity network.

At the same time, Amazon Web Services is deeply involved in different phases of oil production, focusing on pipelines, shipping, and storage for oil and gas companies, according to a 2020 Greenpeace report. In 2021, Amazon signed a strategic collaboration with TotalEnergies to help them “accelerate their digital transformation” — in other words, ensuring the profitability of fossil fuels by helping them make extraction more efficient. TotalEnergies used its record profits in 2022 to approve more new oil and gas expansions than any other international oil major.

Having disrupted twentieth-century brick-and-mortar retail to build a monopolistic “everything company,” Amazon increasingly shapes the way our economies and societies are run. In the face of climate breakdown and corporate inaction and obstruction, it has never been more urgent to build counter-power to what has become one of the most powerful corporations in the world.

Fortunately, a coalition of workers, activists, and community groups is fighting back — from Amazon delivery drivers in the US going on strike demanding that Amazon address the extreme temperatures at work, tech workers walking out at Amazon’s Seattle headquarters, and climate activists blockading Amazon distribution centers across the UK and Germany, to community groups in Austria, France, and South Africa fighting the construction of new Amazon facilities. And this green-red coalition will be rising up jointly today, Black Friday, in over thirty countries across the world to Make Amazon Pay its workers, communities, and for the planet.

We, as elected representatives, stand with the workers and activists to bring their demands into our parliaments. From regulating data centers’ growth and climate impact to stopping Amazon from dumping new and unused products, we are determined to challenge Amazon’s corporate power, damaging practices, and greenwashing to win a livable future for us all.

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Lynn Boylan is a senator in the Seanad Éireann and the Sinn Féin spokesperson on climate justice.

Alma Dufour is a member of the French National Assembly for La France Insoumise. Previously, she led the environmental NGO Amis de la Terre's campaign against Amazon's expansion in France.

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