Shareholders are essential to holding Amazon accountable on sustainability


Whereas all 15 investor-backed resolutions raised throughout Amazon’s latest shareholder assembly died on the vine, there was a glimmer of hope with no less than one. Virtually half of the shareholders voted in favor of calling on the corporate to deal with its rising plastic packaging drawback — the best stage of help among the many resolutions thought-about and amongst all Amazon shareholder resolutions voted on up to now. Shareholders are rightfully demanding extra from Amazon’s leaders in terms of sustainability — and their struggle should proceed. 

The decision comes within the wake of an eye-opening report from Oceana, which discovered that Amazon produced 599 million kilos of plastic packaging waste in 2020, a 29 % improve since 2019. This plastic packaging waste, within the type of air pillows, would circle our planet greater than 600 instances. Amazon’s buyers are frightened about such tendencies, with near 90 % of shoppers involved about plastic air pollution.  

Amazon’s deleterious environmental influence extends past waste generated from packaging. Final yr, 600 Amazon staff signed an announcement calling on the corporate to deal with air pollution that’s concentrated in communities of coloration. The retailer’s sweeping warehouse empire tends to increase in ZIP codes which have a larger proportion of individuals of coloration — in contrast to its company workplaces, located in suburban oases equivalent to Palo Alto, California, and Arlington, Virginia.

The corporate has nonetheless but to totally come clear, requesting that its Carbon Disclosure Undertaking report not be shared publicly.

Amazon has no drawback touting sure numbers surrounding its sustainability commitments — particularly if these numbers are tweaked in a solution to painting the corporate in a constructive mild. As an illustration, Amazon will solely take duty for the complete local weather influence of merchandise with an Amazon model label — amounting to a mere 1 % of its on-line gross sales. Which means the complete environmental penalties — the life-cycle of use and disposal — of many merchandise bought on its huge third-party market are left unaccounted. 

Solely after being shamed by acquiring the F grade it clearly deserved did Amazon start to reveal its footprints to the Carbon Disclosure Undertaking, a world sustainability initiative. The corporate has nonetheless but to totally come clear, requesting that its report not be shared publicly, in contrast to the vast majority of corporations dealing with warmth from traders for environmentally unsound practices. Even Amazon’s newest sustainability report tucked the disappointing details about its rising carbon footprint — an 18 % improve from final yr —  behind nearly 100 pages of shiny tidbits about their sustainability efforts.

Though some Amazon shareholders could really feel a way of hopelessness following the latest sustainability proposal’s failure, they’re heading in the right direction. As one commentator famous after the occasion, even a proposal that hits simply 20 % or 30 % approval sends a transparent message to the board that a difficulty have to be addressed. A rising variety of shareholders care about ESG and so do analysts who could downgrade shares because of the dangers that traders’ proposals will expose. 

Maybe with out the monetary presence of Amazon’s former CEO, Jeff Bezos, the plastics reporting decision could have had a shot at passing. Bezos, the corporate’s largest shareholder, owns no less than 10 % of the corporate’s shares, giving him the power to form the corporate lengthy after his departure from lively company management. 

Nonetheless, there is no such thing as a indication that Bezos’s affect will probably be any much less vital within the close to time period. That makes the struggle from Amazon shareholders much more essential and confirms why they have to proceed to make sure the corporate’s sustainability commitments are usually not simply empty guarantees.  

There may be an ongoing and essential sea change in how People are viewing Amazon — particularly round ESG — and the corporate’s shareholders have an indispensable function to play on this shift.   

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