Published on 23 January 2019

CSR

Amazon employee shareholders push for climate action

At the end of 2018, a group of employee shareholders for the e-commerce giant submitted a resolution calling on Amazon to implement a plan to fight climate change. The group, which has made several environmental commitments, is regularly singled out for its lack of transparency and for lagging behind its peers.

Employee shareholders are asking management to draw up a plan to fight against climate change and withdraw from fossil fuels.
@TonyWebster / Flickr

Approximately thirty current and former Amazon employees, who happen to be company shareholders due to stock-based compensations, recently submitted a resolution against the e-commerce giant. They want the group to present an action plan to tackle climate change and reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Their proposal must be voted on at the Annual Shareholders Meeting in May.

This is a first for the tech sector. Usually, it is oil companies that are targeted. "Amazon is not a mere victim of climate change — its operations contribute significantly to the problem,” the employee shareholders letter states, recalling that Amazon's data centres are mainly fuelled by coal and that delivery services use fossil fuels. Not to mention, the group has recently acquired a fleet of 20,000 diesel-powered vans for its deliveries.

Lack of transparency

The resolution sprang from an internal group discussion over email about climate change. The most motivated employees met several times to decide on the best way to approach management about the subject. They were eventually inspired by a resolution submitted by outside investors that had been adopted last spring.  The resolution required management to incorporate more diversity on its board of directors.

Several studies point to Amazon’s lack of transparency in terms of environmental performance. "The group still refuses to disclose its carbon footprint, and is happy to talk about its commitment to renewable energy, but discloses very few details about the recycling rate or the rate of chemical use in its products," said Greenpeace in its Guide to Greener Electronics in 2017.

Pressure on electricity suppliers

In their resolution, the employee shareholders list several extreme weather events related to climate change that have already exposed Amazon infrastructure and its workers. The tornado in Baltimore last November ravaged an Amazon centre and caused the death of two employees. The fires in California last summer forced workers at Seattle headquarters to wear protective masks.

"Our goal is to supply 100% of our global renewable energy infrastructure (ed. including nuclear energy)." To date, we have solar energy systems in 25 distribution centres, which are expected to reach 50% by 2020 (ed. 7% of the group's buildings). We are also reducing waste by developing packaging innovations that have eliminated more than 244,000 tonnes of packaging material," says Kara Hurst, Director of Sustainable Development at Amazon.

According to 350.org, the group emits 19 million tonnes of CO2 each year, which is the equivalent of nearly five coal-fired power plants. "Responsibility starts with the measurement and disclosure of carbon emissions, as Google, Microsoft, Apple and Walmart have done for years," says the NGO. "Compared to many of these companies, Amazon is terribly late." Google, which has already achieved its 100% renewable energy goal for all of its operations and data centres, has successfully lobbied suppliers in North Carolina to go green.

Concepcion Alvarez, @conce1


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