Friday, January 17, 2020

Amazon Wins with Climate Action and Fails by Silencing Employee's Climate Advocacy

In less than six months Amazon has gone from being a climate champion to a corporate villain. Despite an ambitious climate plan and renewable energy leadership employees are being threatened for demanding that the company do more. An employee letter that circulated in April gained the support of more than 7,500 Amazon employees. It called for a resolution demanding an aggressive climate plan. However, shareholders voted the resolution down in May. Around the same time Amazon updated its communication policy for employees requiring them to seek prior approval before speaking about the company in any public forum.

Amazon has shown leadership in its use of renewable energy. In 2017 Amazon committed to go 100 percent renewable. The tech titan has committed to getting 80 percent of its power from renewables by 2024 and 100 percent by 2030. In October Amazon announced three new renewable energy projects in the US and UK. This includes two US solar projects with a combined output of 215 megawatt (MW) that will generate almost 600,000 megawatt hours (MWh) annually. A 50 MW Scottish deal will generate 168,000 MWh annually making it the largest corporate wind power purchase agreement in the UK. These projects are expected to go online next year. Amazon presently has 18 utility scale wind and solar projects that will generate a combined total of 1,600 MW and deliver more than 4.6 million MWh of clean energy each year. Amazon is investing in locally generated power installing more than 50 rooftop solar arrays that generate a combined total of 98 MW and 130,000 MWh annually. To help slash its transportation footprint the company has also ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles for its fleet.

On September 19 Amazon announced that they would be participating in The Climate Pledge and promising to zero out carbon emissions by 2040. This is ten years ahead of the recommendations in the Paris Agreement. Founder and CEO Jeff Bezos said he plans to use his company's size and scale to "make a difference." As part of this commitment Amazon will measure and report on its GHGs and implement decarbonization strategies consistent with the targets in the Paris Agreement. Any remaining emissions will be offset. Consistent with the pledge Amazon has launched a new website that reports on its carbon footprint and other sustainability metrics.

One day after Bezos' big announcement more than 1,000 Amazon employees joined thousands of other company employees to participate in the global climate strike. Some of these employees reiterated calls for Amazon to accelerate its drive to zero emissions. They also said their employer should abandon contracts with fossil fuel related companies and stop giving donations to politicians who deny the reality of the climate crisis.

Although some businesses gave their employees the day off so they could join the strikers, Amazon threatened those who spoke out with a pink slip. According to a number of reports two Amazon employees were warned that they could be fired if they continued to publicly share their views about the company's environmental performance. The two employees are Jamie Kowalski, a software development engineer and Maren Costa, a user experience experience designer. "This is not the time to shoot the messengers. This is not the time to silence those who are speaking out," Costa said.

Costa and Kowalski are members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and they say Amazon is using intimidation tactics to shut them up. According to Costa two other employees have also been questioned. "Any policy that says I can’t talk about something that is a threat to my children — all children — is a problem for me," Costa said. She added: "It’s our moral responsibility to speak up – regardless of Amazon’s attempt to censor us – especially when climate poses such an unprecedented threat to humanity."

Bezos has had a difficult year that includes the most expensive divorce in history, the human viewers privacy scandal, antitrust investigations and the HQ2 debacle. However, his biggest problem may well be the way he treats his workers. Amazon has adopted ambitious climate targets. A 100 percent renewables pledge by 2030 and a zero carbon emissions commitment by 2040 positions the tech giant to be a sustainability leader. However, it does not negate their efforts to silence their employees. Bezos appears to have forgotten one of the three fundamental tenets of sustainability. He has 650,000 reasons why he needs to treat his employees well. If he wants to hold on to his 37.6 percent share of US e-commerce market he must learn to value the climate advocacy of his workforce. 

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