Update: kudos to Amazon, they joined the Science Based Target initiative in June 2020. Hooray!
As a working mom, I’m awfully dependent on Amazon Prime. I actually would have been happy to consider Bezos my benevolent retail master, serving up hair gel, swim caps, last minute birthday gifts and light fixtures right to my door until the end of time. But, last week the board stonewalled 7,000+ employees who asked Amazon to do something simple: report publicly on their carbon emissions and set a plan to reduce them. It wasn’t actually a big ask and the response to it was disheartening. It’s a bridge too far for this social justice warrior. I’m out.
Amazon has stated that their sustainability program is customer-first with programs like frustration-free packaging, and clean energy for their data centers. These are both great programs, though their timelines and disclosures are not as stringent or complete as they could be. What’s made Amazon a real laggard on corporate sustainability is their lack of transparency. A good sustainability program by its very nature includes disclosures on everything from energy consumption to workplace injury rates. That’s for a few reasons: disclosures help outside stakeholders compare apples to apples between competitors, understand the true scope of the challenge a company faces, determine materiality or the core issues that are of utmost importance for a company to address, and drive improvements. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Most of all, carbon emissions, which directly influence climate change, THE defining issue of our time.
The most recent shareholder action was a continuation of efforts a group of Amazon employees calling themselves Amazon Employees for Climate Justice have taken to influence their boss. Last month, 3500 employees signed on to a public letter calling for climate action:
Our customer obsession requires climate obsession. This necessitates an immediate company-wide plan addressing climate change that demonstrates the following principles:
- Public goals and timelines consistent with science and the IPCC report. Emissions must be cut in half by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach zero by 2050. Goals must span all organizations and businesses, and cover the full supply chain.
- A complete transition away from fossil fuels rather than relying on carbon offsets.
- Prioritization of climate impact when making business decisions, including ending all custom solutions specifically designed for oil and gas extraction and exploration.
- Reduction of harm to the most vulnerable communities first. The pollution we generate is not equally distributed, and climate impact will be felt first and hardest by Black, Indigenous, and other communities of color, particularly in the Global South. We must prioritize our pollution reduction in these communities.
- Advocacy for local, federal, and international policies that reduce overall carbon emissions in line with the IPCC report and withholding of support from policy makers who delay action on climate change.
- Fair treatment of all employees during climate disruptions and extreme weather events. Unsafe or inaccessible workplaces should not be a reason to withhold pay, terminate, or otherwise penalize employees — including hourly and contract workers.
The letter gained a lot of traction and as of this writing has over 7,700 employee sign-ons.
At last week’s shareholder meeting, the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice submitted a shareholder resolution calling for Amazon to provide a public report describing how it is “planning for disruptions posed by climate change, and how Amazon is reducing its company-wide dependence on fossil fuels.” The board voted the resolution down.
Shareholder meetings are interesting affairs. In the world of sustainability activism, they are an astute way to gain the attention of a company’s senior management with a relatively small amount of money. As You Sow uses them quite effectively to lobby companies of all sizes for environmental, animal welfare and human rights reforms.
It’s not terribly unusual for shareholders to vote down a shareholder resolution — shareholders like to let a board of directors make its own decisions about the best direction for the company. But this one, on climate, had a few investment advisory firms recommended their clients back the proposal. And employees are a key stakeholder group for any organization. However, the fact that Bezos refused to even listen to the proposal from 7,700 of his “greatest assets” is cowardly and sad.
If he won’t listen to them, maybe the sound of customers leaving will get his attention.
So where am I going?
Yes, I’ll try to shop local when I can, but let’s get real. I’m still a working mom, short on time, in need of balloons, peanut butter, bathroom cleaner, and nails in a single shopping trip. Realistically, I’m going big box.
Did you know that Target and Walmart both have Science-Based Target commitments to reduce their climate emissions?
They and 553 other companies have used the Science-Based-Target initiative to set assertive carbon reduction goals. Goals are considered “science-based” if they will ensure the company does its fair share to decarbonize their supply chains to the level required to keep global temperature increase below 2°C compared to pre-industrial temperatures, as described in the Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
Want to hear more?
Walmart has Project Gigaton, its commitment to cut more than one billion metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions through supplier engagement by 2030. How much is a gigaton? A bloody lot for one company to take responsibility for, that’s how much. Scientists estimate that we 7.5 billion earthlings can dump a maximum of 565 gigatons into the atmosphere TOTAL if we have any hope of avoiding temperature rises above two degrees. Conserving one gigaton would be a huge win and is a massive commitment for a single company.
Target has a whole suite of sustainability initiatives to serve its guests like:
- Wellness icons to highlight better-for-you products, including the new clean icons to highlight products without a group of commonly unwanted chemicals.
- 100% sustainably sourced seafood
- 100% sustainably-sourced cotton by 2022 (for owned-brands)
- Dozens of other commitments that can help a shopper feel good about supporting the brand. Read about them all in their most recent sustainability report.
So what do you say? Are you willing to vote with your dollars and send a message to Amazon? Tweet me and tell me about it at @jenboynton.
Image credit: Stephen Woods, Flickr CC