Amazon finally has a climate plan

Days after Amazon's largest competitor, Shopify (full disclosure, I work there now), announced that it would commit $5 million to fighting climate change alongside a plethora of other new programs to reduce its footprint, Amazon is finally doing the same.

Jeff Bezos announced the news at The National Press Club, where he said that the company's "Climate Pledge" will allow businesses to commit to meeting the goals of the Paris Agreement 10 years ahead of schedule—with Amazon as the first signatory.

This is a huge change in policy from just a few months ago, when Bezos refused to come on stage at an Amazon shareholder meeting and address frustrated employees that wanted the CEO to create an action plan. To date, Bezos and Amazon have been silent on any plan, outside of "Shipment Zero" which provides few details about what that plan actually is.

So, with that in mind: what's Amazon actually going to do? First, it's committing $100 million to reforestation efforts, which will restore and protect "forests, wetlands, and peatlands" around the world. It'll also buy 100,000 electric delivery vans to move away from diesel vehicles as fast as possible from a company called Rivian, which it not-so-coincidentally invested $700M in earlier this year.

The final part of the goal is 80% of the company's energy usage to be based on renewables in 2024, and 100% in 2030, with the ultimate goal of "net zero carbon" in 2040. To get there, it's spending its own cash on "utility scale" energy plants in wind and solar, as well as installing solar rooftops across as many of its facilities directly.

All of this sounds great, but how will we know if Amazon actually does it? Well, I was surprised to discover that the company will actually report on its success online, including how it's work toward sustainable packaging and other projects are progressing. 

We'll see how transparent those reports are in reality, but it's a good step forward, especially given the company's track record. Greenpeace said in 2019 that Amazon's carbon footprint was enormous, and that the company was barely trying, with just 12 percent of its previous commitment having been met. 

What made Bezos have a sudden change of heart, then? It's actually kind of hard to tell, but he did say that he believed that it could "only be done in collaboration with other companies" and that the Amazon plan needed to go beyond just its own network to make a real impact. 

This really comes down to money, in the end, however: Amazon can see that the best way to save money in the long run is to spend it now, and I suspect that Bezos came to the conclusion that the cost of deferring or ignoring climate change would catch up, eventually. 

Given it's essentially the last tech giant to the table, it clearly has a ton of work to do, and right now I'd remain skeptical: unless it actually delivers, this means nothing at all.

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