Amazon workers in Seattle took the exciting step of filing a shareholder resolution in December 2018 that asks the company to share its plans for reducing its fossil fuel dependence. Now, thousands of Amazon workers around the world are signing on to an open letter pressuring Jeff Bezos and the Amazon Board to adopt the resolution and release a climate plan that matches the scale and urgency of the climate crisis.
Both the recent IPCC report and the National Climate Assessment make it clear: combating climate disaster is going to take a massive coordinated effort. We deserve to know what Amazon’s climate plan is, especially considering the company’s shipping operations in 2017 spewed an estimated 19.1 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere.
Amazon’s Alarming Lack of Transparency
With Shipment Zero, Amazon has finally promised to publish its carbon emissions later this year—years after Google, Microsoft, Apple, and Walmart published theirs.
As we anticipate this (much needed!) step toward greater transparency, we worry that it won’t take into account the company’s recent foray into oil exploration technology, or its 2018 investment in 20,000 diesel-powered delivery vans.
Further, Shipment Zero does not commit to the level of emission reduction that science shows we need to avert catastrophic warming. Amazon committed to reach 50% net-zero shipments in 2030, but given Amazon’s rate of growth, that will still be an increase in overall emissions compared to today.
Amazon, deliver a fossil-free future
Alexa, what is Amazon's carbon footprint?The company won't say... but kids (and grownups!) need to know.Sign the letter! We're calling on Bezos to go #FossilFree:http://350seattle.org/amazon-agm/We researched Amazon’s climate impact...and it wasn’t pretty. In a first-ever estimate of Amazon's shipping emissions, we found that Amazon's 2017 deliveries equaled the carbon spewed from almost 5 coal power plants! Read more: http://350seattle.org/amazon/What's a customer-centric company doing harming our health and climate? We need a transition to electric delivery.Come on, Amazon, you can deliver a fossil free future!#FossilFreePrime#NoCustomersOnADeadPlanetPosted by 350 Seattle on Thursday, May 31, 2018
According to the United Nations’ IPCC report, we need to slash global emissions by 45 percent, and we need to do it in the next 12 years in order to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The problem is urgent; speed matters.
Amazon is Both Culpable and Capable
For all its customer obsession, Amazon hasn’t figured out a way to deliver services in a way that doesn’t directly endanger customers’ clean air, clean water, and livable future. But it could innovate an electric vehicle delivery system—this is, after all, the same company that built an inventory management system so efficient it enables five billion two-day deliveries in a single year.
Amazon Shipping is Quick and Dirty
By our estimates*, the company’s shipping operations in 2017 alone spewed at least 19.1 million metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere—the emissions equivalent of 4.7 coal-fired power plants operating for one year.
A Vacuum of Climate Leadership in the Pacific Northwest
The existential threat posed by the continued use of fossil fuels is being felt viscerally by vulnerable communities who are already bearing the brunt of climate disaster. Consider the Quinault Indian Nation of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, who had to relocate their homes due to the rising waters of the Salish Sea. Or Seattle’s racially diverse southside communities, where air quality has contributed to a life expectancy that is thirteen years shorter than Seattle’s more affluent neighborhoods. Those who contribute least to the problem—low-income folks, Indigenous peoples, communities of color—are most at risk. Amazon has the power and the influence to improve the quality of air, water, and health for these communities.
Amazon is in the Air We Breathe
Here in Seattle, we are falling behind our city’s climate goals, largely due to pollution from transportation.
This is a serious threat to the air we breathe, as well as to a stable climate future. South Park, hemmed in by freight traffic on I-5 and Hwy-99, is a predominantly Latinx neighborhood just twelve miles north of Amazon’s Kent warehouse. A 2013 study of air pollutants found a “disproportionate impact of diesel exhaust” on South Park compared to downtown Seattle. Given what we know about the myriad health hazards of diesel pollution, South Park’s low average life expectancy relative to the rest of Seattle is not surprising. It also serves as a bleak reminder that people of color face around 40 percent more exposure to toxic air pollution overall.
Wait… Isn’t Amazon Already Transitioning to Clean Energy?
It’s important to recognize the few things that Amazon is doing right: wind farms, solar panels, green building. It’s also important to put the company’s sustainability claims and efforts in context. For example:
Claim: 50% of the power consumed by Amazon Web Services (used by Reddit, Netflix, Vimeo, and more) infrastructure came from renewable energy sources, as of January 2018.
Context: Amazon lumps nuclear (i.e. non-renewable) energy together with renewables to achieve 50%, and 30% of the power consumed by AWS is from coal.
Claim: In 2017, Amazon made a 70 million dollar investment in zero-emission forklifts for its warehouses.
Context: Outside its warehouses, the company invested in a fleet of 20,000 diesel-powered Mercedes delivery vans. Meaning the only low-emissions vehicles delivering Amazon packages in the U.S. belong to “last mile” delivery drivers, i.e. contractors who’ve invested their own money in electric vehicles.
Okay, But Is Amazon Really in a Position to Effectively Tackle Climate Action?
Amazon’s operations are fragmented; its data centers are powered by utility companies in Virginia, its packages shipped by USPS, FedEx, and UPS. This segmentation has allowed Amazon to shirk responsibility for its emissions, shifting the burden of transparency and accountability onto other agencies.
Make no mistake, however: the company wields influence and decision-making power in its contracts with these carriers. It’s telling—and disconcerting—that Amazon has not used this leverage to advance a domestic diesel-to-electric vehicle transition, or a significant shift to renewables.
True, Amazon has made some noise about building out its own logistics operations, but the plans aren’t climate-friendly. Across Europe, the company is contracting to launch a fleet of 130 low-pollution, electric and natural gas vans and cars. The inclusion of natural gas here is disconcerting: a study by the Environmental Defense Fund concluded that a diesel-to-natural-gas transition would result in roughly 300 years of climate damage before any benefits would kick in. Shouldn’t a forward-thinking company leapfrog this dangerous fuel and invest directly in renewables? Amazon’s recent announcement regarding the launch of a domestic fleet is similarly discouraging: thus far, there’s been no mention of zero-emission vehicles in the U.S.
Compared to many of its corporate peers, Amazon is woefully behind. Google, which already achieved its goal of 100% renewable energy for all of its operations and data centers, successfully pressured energy providers in North Carolina to switch to renewable sources. Walmart has already placed pre-orders for Tesla’s new EV semi-trucks, showing that it is ready to take initiative to move beyond diesel.
Prime Customers Wanted Electric Vehicle Delivery Yesterday
We don’t have the luxury of waiting for public policymakers to rein in Amazon’s climate impact; the threat to people and ecosystems is too overwhelming, and too immediate. Nor should Jeff Bezos wait for all of Amazon’s third-party contractors, carriers, and energy providers to make the transition to clean energy of their own accord.
As Amazon’s HQ1 neighbors, we are in a unique position to hold Amazon accountable. We’re asking the company to:
- Be transparent about its carbon footprint
- Pilot electric vehicle (EV) delivery in Seattle and the other top fifteen most polluted U.S. cities by 2020
- Make all operations fossil-fuel-free by 2030
- Give first priority to its existing workforce for new clean energy jobs and training to ensure a Just Transition
Now is the time for Amazon to show real leadership and use its considerable leverage in negotiating with energy suppliers and delivery contractors. Now is the time for the company to pilot electric vehicle delivery and protect the vulnerable communities living near its many warehouses and delivery routes. In implementing these changes, a Just Transition to protect workers is imperative: current Amazon employees must be given the first training and job opportunities for new clean energy operations, such as training opportunities and financial incentives (e.g. no-interest loans) to help Flex drivers transition to electric vehicles.
Contact Rebecca to join the team and help with campaign planning.
*We arrived at 19.1 million metric tons by taking the average emissions per package—averaged from the publicly released data by UPS (1) and FedEx (2)—and multiplying it by the total number of Amazon packages delivered in 2017. The number of 2017 Amazon deliveries is an estimate from the company’s released datapoint of Prime members ordering 5 billion items (3) worldwide in 2017 with the addition of another 30% (4) for non-prime-membership customers.
“Amazon Prime: Still Powered by Diesel
Amazon’s shipping operations in 2017 spewed at least 19.1 million metric tons of CO2.
This is equivalent to:
4.7 coal-fired power plants operating for 1 year.
46.8 billion miles driven by a passenger vehicle.
2.9 million homes’ annual electricity usage.
495 million new tree seedlings growing for 10 years are needed to offset that amount of CO2.
Amazon’s growth means more carbon emissions and more particulate air pollution from diesel.
People of color face 40% more exposure to toxic air pollution overall.[graphic of person with points on the body linking to Asthma, Cardiovascular Disease, Cancer]Seattle’s air pollution is the 15th-worst in the nation (short term particle pollution).
Life expectancy in South Park is 8 Years Below Seattle Average.
South Park, hemmed in by freight traffic, is 42.3% Latinx.[map of Seattle showing South Park adjacent to 2 highways and on the route between Seattle and Amazon warehouse in Kent, WA]Our Communities Need Fossil-Fuel-Free Delivery Now!”