On Monday, a group of Amazon employees began circulating an open letter that calls on CEO Jeff Bezos and the board of directors to adopt a companywide plan to address climate change. By Wednesday, over 3,500 Amazoners had signed on. By Friday, that number had surpassed 6,000 – meaning a number equivalent to about 1/10th of the company’s entire corporate workforce had publicly added their names. And those names are still rolling in.
One of the latest names belongs to Tim Bray, a VP and Distinguished Engineer who, per his LinkedIn profile, is “an AWS geek at Amazon.com”. Which means that the movement is officially gathering support at the highest levels of the company.
“We’re seeing such overwhelming, broad support from employees signing our open letter, with representation from our most junior employees up to the VP level,” said Elizabeth Whitmire, a senior tech editor at AWS. The letter demands that Amazon “adopt the climate plan shareholder resolution and release a company-wide climate plan”. That resolution was put forward by employees – many of whom were involved in organising the open letter effort – late last year.
It stipulates that such a climate plan be consistent with the latest science, and that “emissions must be cut in half by 2030 from 2010 levels and reach zero by 2050,” that “goals must span all organizations and businesses, and cover the full supply chain,” and that climate impacts be prioritised when the company made business decisions, “including ending all custom solutions specifically designed for oil and gas extraction and exploration”.
In effect, a large and still-growing portion of Amazon’s workforce is publicly calling on the company to adopt concrete emissions goals, draw down fossil fuel use, and sever some of AWS’s ties with the oil and gas industry, which, as I’ve reported here, the company appears to consider a growth area. (The letter itself cites a story I published last month about how the tech industry at large is helping the oil and gas industry adopt automation and AI tools).
This action is, by and large, unprecedented. The New York Times called it “the largest employee-driven movement on climate change to take place in the influential tech industry". Employees from seemingly every background and department have signed on, from UX designers to biz dev managers to systems development engineers and beyond. A number of senior employees are on board, too – in addition to the VP, at the time of writing, I counted at least eight directors on the list. (Medium, where the letter is posted, estimates that list would take nearly two hours to read in full).
It’s part of a growing trend towards worker advocacy in the tech industry, coming on the heels of the Google Walkout for Change and the We Won’t Build It effort, also at Amazon. By comparison, that effort, which last June protested Amazon’s contracts to build facial recognition software for the U.S. government, drew hundreds of signees.
Nearly a year later, the next open letter protesting company policy has drawn thousands. All this amidst an industry – and a company – renowned for secrecy, and known to be punitive against those who break it. There is a boldness growing in these actions that would have been unusual for the secretive, sealed-off industry, even a couple of years ago.
Amazon’s board has recommended that shareholders vote “against” the climate resolution, a move that may serve to inspire further action among employees.
Employees I’ve spoken with say that while they are encouraged by developments like Shipment Zero – Amazon’s new effort to reduce carbon emissions in its shipping program – such programs need concrete timelines and clarifications about how exactly those emissions reductions will be achieved.
The story has been picked up everywhere from CBS to the New York Times to Wired, and demonstrates in no uncertain terms the power of worker action in the tech industry – and perhaps, even, a new era for a sector long given over to superman founder mythologies and cults of personality.
Amazon’s press team declined to comment on the record.
[UPDATE]: But they did provide the statement they have been giving to the press regarding the open letter:
“Earlier this year, we announced that we will share our company-wide carbon footprint, along with related goals and programs. We also announced Shipment Zero, our vision to make all Amazon shipments net zero carbon, with 50% of all shipments net zero by 2030. Amazon’s sustainability team is using a science-based approach to develop data and strategies to ensure a rigorous approach to our sustainability work. We have launched several major and impactful programs and are working hard to integrate this approach fully across Amazon. Our dedication to ensuring that our customers understand how we are addressing environmental issues has been unwavering – we look forward to launching more work and sharing more this year. We have a long history of commitment to sustainability through innovative programs such as Frustration Free Packaging, Ship in Own Container, our network of solar and wind farms, solar on our fulfillment center rooftops, investments in the circular economy with the Closed Loop Fund, and numerous other initiatives happening every day by teams across Amazon. In operations alone, we have over 200 scientists, engineers, and product designers dedicated exclusively to inventing new ways to leverage our scale for the good of customers and the planet. We have a long term commitment to powering our global infrastructure using 100% renewable energy.”
Featured image: David Ryder (Getty)