“I think it’s totally legitimate to say this is a really harmful industry, it’s accelerating climate change, it pollutes environments and communities in all these different ways, and it’s really dangerous—and we’re not going to do business with it,” says Fribley.
And in July, the New York Times reported that Amazon had paid $15,000 to sponsor an event organized by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian think tank notorious for its attempts to sow public doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change for decades. In a Medium post published in July, Amazon Employees for Climate Justice said they were “heartbroken and angry,” about the sponsorship, and noted that Amazon had also donated to 68 members of Congress in 2018 who consistently voted against climate change legislation. Now, the workers want Amazon to stop funding groups like CEI, as well as politicians who deny the harmful impacts of a warming planet.
Amazon has previously set ambitious environmental goals, but has yet to attain them. In 2014—just months after Greenpeace published a damning report on the company’s energy usage—Amazon pledged to run 100 percent of AWS on renewable energy sometime in the future. It’s so far only met half of its stated goal. Both Google and Apple already power their operations with 100 percent clean energy, and Facebook says it is not far behind.
Earlier this year, members of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice met with company leadership to discuss the retail giant’s plans to combat the climate crisis. Fribley says that during the meeting, he was surprised to learn that Amazon appeared to have few specific environmental objectives. “I think everybody at Amazon knows that’s not how you get stuff done,” he says. “That was kind of eye-opening—to hear that there weren’t goals around reducing the amount of carbon Amazon emits.”
Unlike more than 7,000 corporations around the world, Amazon doesn’t report on its environmental impact to CDP, a UK-based nonprofit formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project. This year, the retail giant said it would finally begin tracking its carbon footprint, but it’s developing its own secretive approach. The corporations who disclose data to CDP do so in a standardized way, whereas Amazon is developing its own in-house methodology. Amazon did not return a request for comment.
The retail giant has announced several new sustainability initiatives in recent months, including Shipment Zero, a goal to have 50 percent of all deliveries reach net carbon zero by 2030. Shortly after the Gizmodo investigation was published, Amazon also announced it would build three new wind farms, its first renewable energy projects in more than two years.
The planned walkout isn’t the first action Amazon Employees for Climate Justice have taken. Last year, a group of several dozen former and current employees, who were given company stock as part of their compensation packages, jointly filed a shareholder resolution that would have forced Amazon to issue a report on how it planned to grapple with climate change.
As the resolution began gaining support internally, Amazon publicly announced Shipment Zero. The next day, Mark Hoffman, a top lawyer at Amazon, asked the workers whether they would now consider withdrawing it. But they decided the goal wasn’t good enough. Instead of taking back their resolution, the employees published a public letter asking Bezos and Amazon’s board of directors to adopt it. Over 8,000 employees and counting publicly signed their names. Though the resolution ultimately didn’t pass, it helped to raise public awareness and build support among employees inside Amazon—and ultimately lead to the upcoming walkout.
Amazon employees have walked out previously this year, as part of a broader backlash against working conditions in its sprawling warehouses. In March, Amazon workers at a Minnesota warehouse left their posts—likely the first strike ever at an Amazon facility in the United States. Employees at the same fulfillment center went on strike again during the company’s annual Prime Day holiday in July. Several weeks later, another group of workers at a nearby delivery center in Minnesota also walked off the job.