Amazon Sets Electric Vehicle, Carbon Footprint Goals Amid Criticism

Amazon unveiled a new series of ambitious, long-term sustainability goals on Thursday that would continue the company’s efforts to make its operations more environmentally friendly.

Under what Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) has dubbed “The Climate Pledge,” the tech giant said it has ordered 100,000 electric delivery vehicles from Rivian, a Michigan startup Amazon has backed previously. The Seattle-based ecommerce company also committed to reduce its carbon footprint by getting more energy from renewable sources, and to invest in reforestation projects.

Amazon announced its pledge the day before a walkout some of its employees have reportedly been planning as part of a broader effort to compel large tech companies to invest more to address climate change. The company has faced criticism for not being more transparent about its presumed large carbon footprint and energy use.

Amazon delivers more than 10 billion items a year, the company says in a news release. The impact of the company’s operations on the environment is multifaceted, encompassing emissions from vehicles that transport and deliver items, as well as waste from materials used to package orders. Additionally, large amounts of electricity are required to power and cool the servers in data centers that make up the company’s cloud-computing business, Amazon Web Services.

On one hand, Amazon says its efforts to go green date back many years. It has spearheaded several wind and solar renewable energy projects, including installing solar panels on the rooftops of more than 50 Amazon fulfillment centers. It has also led sustainable packaging initiatives, like not using an additional box to ship items that are already boxed by manufacturers. Amazon claims such efforts have helped reduce packaging waste by one-quarter since 2015.

Still, Amazon’s new pledge can be seen as an acknowledgement that it can commit more to addressing climate change and its fallout, such as rising sea levels and volatile weather patterns that buck historical trends.

“We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue,” Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, says in a statement. “We’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference.”

Amazon says it’s committed to getting 80 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2024—roughly double its current usage of renewables. The company says it will move to using 100 percent renewable energy sources by 2030, and has committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2040—a decade ahead of the 2050 target established in the Paris Agreement. (The US became a signatory to the agreement in 2016, but President Donald Trump pulled the US out of the accord after taking office the following year.)

Global Optimism, an organization led by former United Nations climate change chief Christiana Figueres, developed the Climate Pledge alongside Amazon.

“If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge,” Figueres says in a statement.

Amazon also plans to invest $100 million in reforestation projects around the world as part of a new partnership with The Nature Conservancy, a charitable organization based in the Washington, DC area. The company didn’t specify over what period that investment would take place.

In the shorter term, Amazon plans to begin using its new fleet of electric vehicles from Plymouth, MI-based Rivian to deliver packages to customers by 2021.

The deal represents the largest order ever for electric delivery vehicles, Amazon claims. The company plans to deploy the 100,000 vehicles it ordered gradually, and projects the entire fleet will be on the road by 2030.

Amazon previously invested $440 million in Rivian to help the company scale up its operations in Michigan, and in Normal, IL, where it operates a manufacturing plant.

Jeff Buchanan is the editor of Xconomy Seattle. Email: jbuchanan@xconomy.com Follow @_jeffbuchanan

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