The Climate Pledge Turns Three And Calls For Action At Climate Week NYC
Climate Week NYC, run by the Climate Group, is a strong showcase of public and private sector climate action and a stage for open and insightful conversations on how to do more. This year the focus of the event has been on “Getting It Done.” In the opening ceremony, the host highlighted the need to move the conversation away from the gloom and doom and onto the impact efforts to address climate change are having, claiming that scaring people does not result in more people caring or getting involved. What does deliver results is showing the work that has been done and the positive impact resulting from it.
I talked to Sally Fouts, the Director of The Climate Pledge to discuss impact and accountability in sustainability. The Climate Pledge was founded in 2019 by Global Optimism and Amazon, which became the first signatory. Signing The Climate Pledge, businesses and organizations make a commitment to take collective action and work together to fight climate change and work towards a healthier planet. More specifically, signatories commit to:
- Reaching net-zero carbon across their businesses by 2040 and measuring and reporting greenhouse gas emissions regularly
- Implementing decarbonization strategies in line with the Paris Agreement through business changes and innovations, such as efficiency improvements, renewable energy, materials reductions, and other carbon emission elimination strategies.
- Neutralizing any remaining emissions with additional, quantifiable, real, permanent, and socially beneficial offsets
Many tech companies such as Verizon, Microsoft, Twitter, Uber, Salesforce, and H.P. are among the signatories. This week, three years after being created, The Climate Pledge reached 376 signatories across 34 countries. Fouts is ecstatic about the milestone sharing: “Soon after being appointed Director of The Climate Pledge, COVID hit and I was concerned that the pressure many organizations were under would deprioritize the sustainability fight. Fortunately, that was not the case and the milestone we have reached this week proves how many are taking this work seriously.”
I was personally somewhat surprised that so many companies, some of which are in direct competition with Amazon, joined The Climate Pledge. Still, Fouts explains that many signatories got on board because they saw the work Amazon was doing and wanted to learn. Others that were part of the same ecosystem wanted to leverage some of that effort. An example of the work Amazon has been focused on is its investment in renewable energy projects, which this week saw another 71 added to the list, including its first renewable energy project in South America—a solar farm in Brazil—and its first solar farms in India and Poland. Once fully operational, Amazon’s global renewable energy portfolio will generate 50,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of clean energy, the equivalent amount of electricity needed to power 4.6 million U.S. homes annually.
For Amazon, it was clear from the beginning that making a difference called for more than a single company effort, no matter how large that company was. For a company as large as Amazon, heavily dependent on a vast supply chain, there was also the realization that unless companies in the supply chain were getting involved, it would be impossible for Amazon to reach its own goals. Fortunately, other large organizations felt the same way about setting aside business competition for the planet’s greater good and joined The Climate Pledge. “What’s needed is for everybody to work together to build the enabling conditions for climate solutions. Driving change must be an inclusive undertaking. That means as many companies as possible creating a plan and committing to actions needed to hit net zero. The Climate Pledge provides a framework and will help companies worldwide take that first step to scale up their climate commitments,” recently departed Microsoft chief environmental officer Lucas Joppa.
The belief that getting the job done required partnerships with big and small companies from the four corners of the world led Amazon in 2020 to create The Climate Pledge Fund to support the development of sustainable and decarbonizing technologies and services that will enable signatories to meet the goals set by The Climate Pledge. With an initial $2 billion in funding, Amazon has invested in 18 companies, including Rivian and Infinium, both of which Amazon will utilize in their transportation fleet.
This week Amazon made a further investment by partnering with Water.org to help launch the Water.org Water & Climate Fund, focused on climate-resilient water and sanitation solutions that will result in lasting access for 100 million people across Asia, Africa, and Latin America. In addition to launching this fund, Amazon’s $10 million contribution will directly empower 1 million people with water access by 2025, providing 3 billion liters of water per year in areas facing water scarcity.
Balancing Accountability and Action
One of the commitments of The Climate Pledge focuses on accountability through measuring and reporting. A very critical step to start the work says Fouts: “You have to know where you stand to know what is or isn’t working,” but adds, “However, at this point, given the urgency of the climate crisis, the actions signatories take is what we want them to focus on.”
Three years into the effort, focusing on action rather than reporting is not just good; it is expected. Focusing on impact has several positives, other than the obvious one of moving us closer to a healthier planet. It raises the interest of other companies that are considering joining and gets the public sector’s attention leading to fruitful collaborations in some of the projects The Climate Pledge is undertaking across several cities in the world. “One of the things that we try really hard to do with The Climate Pledge and one of the things that differentiates us from other groups with similar goals is that we try to be a place where the good work is highlighted so others can follow suit,” says Fouts.
Keeping the right balance between reporting and action is particularly important for small organizations that, with limited resources, can find themselves paralyzed by reporting and unable to focus on the actual work.
Signatories coming together on some really big projects to demonstrate that it is possible for companies to join forces and go faster and at scale is what Fouts would like to see over the next twelve months. She would also like, of course, to see more companies join The Climate Pledge, especially coming from countries outside of the United States and Europe, which now represent around 80% of the signatories. A better geographical balance would allow for a more direct representation of those regions that often bear the brunt of climate change so that their first-hand experience could better guide projects.
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.