The aftermath of what is probably the first labor dispute in history triggered by climate change will likely reverberate around the world for some time.
After facing backlash from its employees, Amazon.com Inc. last week pledged to buy 100,000 electric-powered delivery trucks, reveal its annual carbon emissions, spend $100 million on reforestation and convert to 100% renewable energy by 2030.
Amazon has a global reach as the biggest internet retailer, and its plan could cut emissions and traffic noise. But the employees who triggered Amazon's action, arrayed under a group called Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, may keep up their public pressure campaign on the company.
They said Amazon's pledges last week were "a big win, but not enough."
As many as 2,000 of them hit the streets Friday, joining students and other activists in climate strikes in places like Dublin; Cape Town, South Africa; and Bucharest, Romania.
Their anger had taken a long time to materialize. As Brandy Russum, an Amazon designer, explained on the group's website, frustration with the company over climate change started with Hurricane Katrina's massive assault on New Orleans in 2005. "After five 'storms of a lifetime,' you realize something is going wrong in your lifetime. ... Things are getting worse," she said.
Katrina eventually spurred Walmart Inc. — the largest global retailer — to begin measuring, publishing and reducing its global warming emissions starting in 2008. Eventually, some 5,000 other businesses followed suit, including 150 companies that, like Walmart, began pushing their suppliers to cut their emissions (Climatewire, May 14).
Some Amazon employees were frustrated the company didn't respond in kind and that it contributed to climate change denial lobbying groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute and 68 members of Congress who voted against climate legislation in 2018. The employees announced their planned walkout on Sept. 9.
"We have to take responsibility for the impact that our business has on the planet and on people," the group said in a statement.
Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO, held a press conference in Washington, D.C., on Thursday in an apparent attempt to come to terms with the group.
"We're done being in the middle of the herd on this issue — we've decided to use our size and scale to make a difference," Bezos announced at the National Press Club.
He said he was starting a "climate pledge" movement to measure and support "net-zero annual carbon emissions by 2040" and predicted that other CEOs would join.
"Bold steps by big companies will make a huge difference," Bezos predicted. He also promised to "look very carefully" at whether Amazon's political contributions had gone to climate change deniers.
Bruno Sarda, the president of a group called CDP North America, formerly called the Climate Disclosure Project, said Bezos' pledge was unnecessary because the group, with help from Walmart and others, had already established a process for companies to measure, publish and reduce their carbon emissions.
Travis Burk, a spokesman for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said his group's usually loquacious director of global warming and international environmental policy, Myron Ebell, was not available to comment on Bezos' new stance. "Thanks for reaching out, but we are going to pass on commenting on this one," he said in an email.
One clear winner of the labor dispute and its aftermath is Plymouth, Mich.-based company Rivian Automotive Inc., which will make the 100,000 electric delivery vans for Amazon. R.J. Scaringe, the company's CEO, has developed a flat, "skateboard" frame for an electric pickup truck and a sport utility vehicle that will soon be produced in a former Mitsubishi Motors Corp. plant in Normal, Ill.
Rivian has received more than $2 billion in investments from Ford Motor Co. and other automotive companies to make future electric vehicles. Amazon invested $440 million in February.
Previously, the company has touted 750 horsepower vehicles that can be used for camping and driving in off-road situations. Rivian says they can go 400 miles before their batteries need recharging. It recently told Forbes it has no plans to build delivery vans for companies other than Amazon.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from E&E News. E&E provides daily coverage of essential energy and environmental news at www.eenews.net.