Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos challenged on climate change. Here’s how shareholders voted on it and other issues
Over the last six months, dozens and then thousands of Amazon employees mounted an unprecedented public campaign to pressure the company toward substantive, science-based action on climate change.
The effort reached a peak Wednesday, as climate-focused Amazon employees dressed in white shirts stood as a group while one of their number formally asked Jeff Bezos and the company’s stockholders to endorse their proposal for a detailed report on climate risks and fossil-fuel use.
Later, in a question-and-answer session, employees tried to pin Bezos down, asking him directly for specific timelines and targets for reducing the company’s emission of greenhouse gases. But Bezos would not commit. At least not yet.
“It’s hard to find an issue that’s more important than climate change. The science is super-compelling on this. There’s no doubt about it,” said Bezos, the Amazon founder, chairman and chief executive.
He chronicled the company’s previously announced steps, including its recent “Shipment Zero” pledge to eliminate the emissions from half of Amazon deliveries to customers by 2030. He noted that e-commerce and cloud computing “are inherently more carbon efficient than their alternatives. Building your own data centers, very bad. Driving yourself to the store to pick up a gallon of milk… very bad. So we’re doing a lot intrinsically, and have been for 20 years.”
But Bezos deferred to a deputy when an employee asked him when the company would reach its long-term target of 100% renewable energy.
The back-and-forth with the world’s richest person on one of the world’s most pressing issues provided several moments of high drama at an event otherwise designed to quietly take care of Amazon’s mandated public-company business – principally the election of 10 board directors. There was also some levity.
The meeting at times sounded like an airing of grievances in the austere throne room of some vast empire, only partly because of Amazon chief financial officer Brian Olsavsky’s joke about opening a data center in the fictional “Game of Thrones” city of King’s Landing.
Later, before another question about Amazon’s plans as the fate of the planet hangs in the balance, a woman tried to personally return some Passover seder guides to Bezos.
“My apologies that you had to use this unusual venue for a return,” Bezos told the woman, who said she had tried unsuccessfully to send the Haggadahs back through normal channels.
The range of issues brought before Amazon owners and management, through shareholder proposals and company presentations inside the meeting as well as protests and news conferences outside, underscores the vast sweep and varied impacts of Amazon’s operations, which last year generated $233 billion in net revenue.
Unionized pilots for carriers that serve Amazon Prime Air — a piece of the company’s massive and growing logistics system — marched next to contract security guards, accompanied by a four-piece band, who are fighting to unionize. Activists opposed to Amazon’s development and sale of facial recognition technology to governments held a banner across the street from a group of housing and homeless advocates.
“I see all these issues as interconnected,” said Cheryl McArthur, who volunteers at homeless shelters in the city, and wants to see Amazon contribute more to fund affordable housing in Seattle. “It’s an environmental issue, too.”
(The company and Bezos himself have provided financial support and space for Mary’s Place, which provides temporary housing for unsheltered women and families.)