Thursday, June 20, 2024

Too Good to Be True: Major Companies Backtrack on Climate Pledges


From Amazon to Delta, companies are putting climate pledges in reverse.

“We can now see a path to net zero carbon delivery of shipments to customers,” read a statement released by Amazon a few years ago. “We are setting an ambitious goal for ourselves to reach 50 percent of all Amazon shipments with net zero carbon by 2030.”

It was a significant target, considering Jeff Bezos’ e-commerce juggernaut delivers around 1.6 million packages to consumers every single day. But it wasn’t to be. As reported by Business Insider last month, the commitment, labeled Shipment Zero, has since been scrapped.

a truck drives through a mountainous forest
Courtesy Bruno van der Kraan | Unsplash

Instead, according to a statement released by the retailer, it will incorporate the target into its Climate Pledge, a broader climate commitment, which it claims will help it reach net-zero carbon across all operations by 2040—a whole decade later than the initial target in Shipment Zero.

“As we examined our work toward The Climate Pledge, we realized that it no longer made sense to have a separate and more narrow Shipment Zero goal that applied to only one part of our business, so we’ve decided to eliminate it,” the company’s statement reads. 

“We remain focused on The Climate Pledge and our goal to reach net zero carbon across our operations by 2040 — this includes working towards powering our operations with 100 percent renewable energy, transforming and decarbonizing our transportation network with electric vehicles and alternative fuels, using more sustainable building materials, and reducing packaging waste, among other areas,” it continued.

While the Climate Pledge is progress, the amendment is still undeniably concerning, not least because, as Business Insider points out, Amazon’s fast, efficient delivery is a key part of its business model and a key driver of its overall emissions. The latter reached more than 71 million metric tons in 2021, according to the retailer itself — although the reality may be much higher than it’s letting on, according to one study.

But while the news from Amazon is disappointing, unfortunately, the retailer is far from alone.

Major companies backtrack on climate goals

In these modern climate anxiety-gripped times, it is not unusual for major corporations to have some sort of climate commitment in place. Many major brands and companies have either committed to reducing their emissions or going full net zero.

And that’s important, considering the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is still rising, but needs to fall by almost half in this decade to prevent global temperatures from exceeding the 1.5° C mark above pre-industrial levels.

But, like Amazon, it seems like some of the world’s biggest companies have realized that they cannot meet some of their initial ambitious targets. Footwear giant Crocs, for example, recently recorded a 45.5 percent increase in absolute emissions, and pushed its net-zero target back by 10 years, from 2030 to 2040. 

air france act
Courtesy Nicolas J Leclercq | Unsplash

And in news that is likely not a surprise to most, oil companies, like BP, Exxon, and Shell, have also backtracked on commitments while profits soar, reported Grist earlier this year. 

“I think over the last few weeks, we’ve seen the industry take off the green mask that it has been wearing for the last few years and remind us of its true identity and its real business model,” Jamie Henn, the director of Fossil Free Media, told the publication. “Which is the continued extraction and production of fossil fuels at the expense of our climate and communities.”

Another company facing criticism over climate commitments is Delta Air, which was recently hit with a consumer class action lawsuit for allegedly inaccurately claiming it was the world’s “first carbon-neutral airline.”

The lawsuit alleges that while Delta Air did purchase climate credits (which are investments in renewable energy projects, or tree planting initiatives, for example), these were not valid, as the projects would have happened with or without the airline’s help. Delta Air then used its supposed credits to charge higher prices, adds the California resident Mayanna Berrin, who filed the case.

“They can’t just claim neutrality if that’s not factually accurate,” she told the Associated Press. “Lawsuits, in general, are very scary, and there are a lot of people who echo my frustrations who may not know their rights or the impact they can make by speaking up.”

What can consumers do?

It’s difficult to avoid some of the world’s biggest companies, particularly platforms like Amazon, which provide fast and accessible service to millions. Ultimately, it is up to governments to hold major businesses accountable.

But as consumers, we can take steps to engage with more sustainable business models and avoid the corporations that greenwash (or greenhush, more on that here).

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