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Amazon yesterday announced the creation of  The Climate Pledge Fund, which it said is designed "to support the development of sustainable technologies and services that will enable Amazon and other companies to meet The Climate Pledge -  a commitment to be net zero carbon by 2040. This dedicated venture investment program - with an initial $2 billion in funding - will back visionary companies whose products and services will facilitate the transition to a zero carbon economy."

The announcement, ironically, came as Amazon said that its 2019 greenhouse gas emissions were up 15 percent from the previous year.

The Seattle Times writes that Amazon says that "its emissions per dollar of gross merchandise sales — a measure of emissions intensity that Amazon says it uses to benchmark its climate performance, but which others say obscures the more important rise in absolute emissions — actually decreased 5% from 2018."

The Times also notes that "that emissions intensity metric includes greenhouse gases stemming from Amazon’s activities in moving goods to customers, and from the manufacture of its own products. Amazon doesn’t count the emissions from manufacturing of products by other companies, even though it counts sales of those products in calculating its emissions per dollar. The company declined to disclose its gross merchandise sales."

The Fund announcement says that the goal is to "invest in companies in multiple industries, including transportation and logistics, energy generation, storage and utilization, manufacturing and materials, circular economy, and food and agriculture. Over time, Amazon will also look for opportunities to involve other Climate Pledge signatories in this venture investment program."

KC's View:

To me, this story reflects a reality of Amazon's current situation that goes beyond the issue of climate change.

If tomorrow, Amazon sees an opportunity that would help it disrupt a business segment with positive implications for its long-term dominance, but that opportunity would not be good for the planet's health, would it do that thing anyway and worry about the climate stuff later?

If Amazon sees an opportunity to improve efficiency in its warehouses, but it will mean working its employees a little harder and maybe a little less compassionately, would it make that change and then worry about the employees later?

Amazon is so big and its moves so impactful on the environment and the culture that inevitably there will be times when there will negative repercussions from its actions … and times when Amazon may not always be the best corporate citizen.  And so, it will have to make choices, and those choices will not always be popular.  (Or right.)

But … doing things like the Climate Change Fund isn't just about positive publicity or assuaging the corporate conscience.  Billions of dollars can generate real change and new technologies with long-term implications.  And so, let's not diminish the importance of such a commitment.