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Clean Transport Amazon climate pledge

Published on September 20th, 2019 | by Steve Hanley

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Amazon Pledges To Meet Paris Climate Goals 10 Years Early, Commits To 100,000 Electric Delivery Vehicles

September 20th, 2019 by  


On September 19, Amazon announced it is ordering 100,000 electric delivery vans from Rivian. Amazon expects the vans to enter service beginning in 2021, with all of of them on the road by 2030. Once fully deployed, the electric vans are expected to keep over 4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere every year. That’s big news, of course, and will drive the narrative that electric vehicles are not expensive toys for rich people. But it’s not the most important part of the news about Amazon.

Amazon climate pledge

Credit: Amazon.com

The announcement was part of a press conference given by Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon, in Washington, DC. He told those in attendance that his company will be carbon neutral by 2040 — 10 years sooner than the date set by the Paris climate accords. Bezos is challenging other companies to do the same. Here’s his statement as contained in an Amazon press release.

“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. If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon — which delivers more than 10 billion items a year — can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can. I’ve been talking with other CEOs of global companies, and I’m finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge. Large companies signing The Climate Pledge will send an important signal to the market that it’s time to invest in the products and services the signatories will need to meet their commitments.”

The Climate Pledge is a joint creation of Amazon and Global Optimism, which describes itself as follows: “Global Optimism exists to precipitate a transformation from pessimism to optimism as a method of creating social and environmental change.” It is headed by Christiana Figueres, a citizen of Costa Rica who was the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change from 2010-2016.

Figueres says, “Bold steps by big companies will make a huge difference in the development of new technologies and industries to support a low carbon economy. With this step, Amazon also helps many other companies to accelerate their own decarbonization. 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. We are excited to have others join.”

But Wait, There’s More

Amazon isn’t done yet. It is now pledging to reach 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% renewable energy by 2030. It is party to 15 utility-scale wind and solar renewable energy projects that will generate over 1,300 MW of renewable capacity and deliver more than 3.8 million MWh of clean energy annually — enough to power 368,000 U.S. homes. 50 solar rooftops on facilities worldwide generate 98 MW of renewable capacity and deliver 130,000 MWh of clean energy annually.

In partnership with The Nature Conservancy, Amazon is investing $100 million in the Right Now Climate Fund to help restore and protect forests, wetlands, and peatlands around the world. The company says the Climate Fund “will help remove millions of metric tons of carbon from the atmosphere over the lifetime of the project, and create economic opportunity for thousands of people.”

Sally Jewell of The Nature Conservancy says,  “The science is clear: healthy forests, grasslands, and wetlands are some of the most effective tools we have to address climate change — but we must act now to take natural climate solutions to scale. Amazon is recognized as an innovator that drives real change. A commitment of this size is an exciting opportunity, with the potential to drive transformational change. We applaud Amazon’s Climate Pledge and their aggressive ambition to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2040 and look forward to our high-impact collaboration.”

The company has launched a new sustainability website where customers and others can track its many initiatives designed to dramatically reduce the carbon emissions from its operations and lower the amount of packaging involved.

A Contrarian View

All of this sounds very interesting, but is it just greenwashing on a grand scale? Does the world really need billions of packages delivered overnight? Isn’t it possible that more locally produced products might be a more sustainable approach? One of the drivers of global heating is the quest for convenience in everything we do, finding the easiest and cheapest way to get the things we want. How do we know the environmental impact of all those products passing through Amazon’s warehouse and into those zero emissions electric delivery vans?

With all due respect to Jeff Bezos and Amazon, isn’t the business model itself an affront to good judgment and a sustainable environment? Some of you will protest me saying this, but is a man whose idea of proper behavior sexting his neighbor’s wife the right person we should look to for leadership on such a critical issue? And what of the 20,000 diesel-powered Sprinter vans that Amazon ordered from Mercedes earlier this year? Has that order been cancelled and if not, why not?

Perhaps it is unfair to question Amazon and its motives, especially when so many other corporations are doing next to nothing. We shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good, after all. But part of this seems like a fossil fuel company announcing it is converting all the trains carrying its products to electricity to clean up its carbon footprint. Underneath all the happy talk, it’s still business as usual, is it not? 
 

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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Rhode Island and anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. His motto is, "Life is not measured by how many breaths we take but by the number of moments that take our breath away!" You can follow him on Google + and on Twitter.



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