Amazon takes heat over climate change as employee activist group swells to more than 3,500

(GeekWire Photo / Kurt Schlosser)

For months, Amazon employees have been agitating for a comprehensive environmental plan at the company and on Wednesday they reached a new milestone.

More than 3,500 workers have signed onto an open letter spearheaded by the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice organization. Those signatories included their full names and titles on the petition, a signal that thousands of Amazon employees are willing to publicly call out the company’s environmental practices. The signatures were gathered in less than 48 hours.

“Amazon’s leadership is urgently needed,” the letter says. “We’re a company that understands the importance of thinking big, taking ownership of hard problems, and earning trust.”

The petition asks Amazon to adopt a shareholder resolution calling for a company-wide climate change plan that would:

  • Cut Amazon’s carbon emissions in half by 2030 and to zero by 2050
  • Completely transition Amazon away from fossil fuels
  • End custom products built for fossil fuel companies
  • Reduce pollution in vulnerable communities
  • Lobby for policies to reduce climate change
  • Protect employees vulnerable to climate disruptions and extreme weather events

The letter was organized after several meetings with Amazon leadership that failed to reach an agreement that satisfied the employees.

The employees take particular issue with an initiative in which Amazon Web Services builds custom products to help fossil fuel companies in their oil discovery and extraction efforts.

“Partnering with fossil fuel companies demonstrates that climate is not a priority for Amazon leadership,” said Jamie Kowalski, an Amazon software developer, in a statement.

The petition builds on a shareholder resolution filed by Amazon employees in November urging the company to publish a report on its plan to reduce fossil fuel dependence.

“Earlier this year, we announced that we will share our company-wide carbon footprint, along with related goals and programs,” said Sam Kennedy, an Amazon spokesperson focused on the company’s sustainability efforts, in a statement to GeekWire.

Amazon plans to move to 100 percent renewable energy but hasn’t set a deadline to reach that goal as other tech companies have. In February, Amazon pledged to get half of its package deliveries to a standard of net zero carbon by 2030 as part of a “Shipment Zero” initiative. Last week, Amazon announced three new wind farm deals to power its AWS data centers.

Amazon’s environmental employee activists don’t think these steps go far enough.

“We have the power to shift entire industries, inspire global action on climate, and lead on the issue of our lifetimes,” the letter says. “We ask that you, as leaders responsible for our strategic direction, adopt the climate plan resolution and release a company-wide plan that incorporates the six principles above.”

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