Google, Amazon make sweeping renewable energy commitments

The new investments and promises come a day before employees from Google, Amazon and other tech companies stage a walkout to protest the industry's role in the climate crisis.

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Clockwise from top left: Wind and solar projects that currently serve Google in Sweden; North Carolina; the Netherlands; Oklahoma; and Chile  

Google on Thursday announced that it's increasing its worldwide wind and solar energy portfolio by more than 40 percent to 5,500 megawatts (MW), the equivalent of the capacity of a million solar rooftops. The deal, Google boasted, is the biggest corporate purchases of renewable energy in history. 

Meanwhile, Amazon on Thursday made its own renewable energy announcements, promising to reach 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 and to net-zero carbon across its business by 2040. The e-commerce giant also announced it's ordering 100,000 fully-electric delivery vehicles and is investing $100 million in reforestation projects around the world. To let customers, employees, investors and anyone else track its progress in reaching these commitments, Amazon also launched a new sustainability website. 

The new  investments and promises come a day before employees from Google, Amazon and other tech companies stage a walkout for "climate justice." The walkouts are timed to coincide with the Global Climate Strike, as well as the UN General Assembly and the UN Climate Action Summit in New York. This weekend also marks the start of the first-ever UN Youth Climate Summit.

Tech workers over the past year have shown increasing concern over the outsized impact their employers have on the environment, the economy and society in general. While tech workers have staged protests over other issues -- Google employees, for instance, held a walkout to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment issues -- Friday's events mark the first tech industry walkout over climate issues, according to activist organizers employed by Amazon. It's also the first walkout ever staged by Amazon corporate employees. 

In a statement released Thursday, Amazon workers called Amazon's new commitments a "huge win" for their efforts. However, they said the commitments are not enough. They listed a series of ways in which they say Amazon continues to contribute to the climate crisis: "As long as Amazon uses its power to help oil and gas companies discover and extract more fossil fuel, donates to climate-denying politicians and think tanks, and enables the oppression of climate refugees, employees will keep raising our voices," the statement said.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said in a statement Thursday morning that the company is "done being in the middle of the herd on this issue." 

The company noted that its pledge to net zero carbon by 2040 would put it a decade ahead of the Paris Accord's goal of 2050. In addition to reaching that goal, Amazon and the group Global Optimism announced the Climate Pledge, a commitment for all businesses to meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early.

"We've decided to use our size and scale to make a difference," Bezos said. "If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon—which delivers more than 10 billion items a year—can meet the Paris Agreement 10 years early, then any company can."

To reduce its emissions from transportation, Amazon is investing $440 million in emissions-free electric vehicles from Rivian, which is headquartered in Plymouth, Michigan. Amazon has previously invested in the business. The new delivery vans will start delivering packages to customers in 2021, and Amazon plans to have 10,000 of the new electric vehicles on the road as early as 2022.

To support reforestation, Amazon is committing $100 million to launch the Right Now Climate Fund in partnership with The Nature Conservancy. 

Meanwhile, Google's new wind and solar investment comprise 18 new energy deals around the globe, including deals in the US, Chile, and Europe. Google previously set the goal of making long-term renewable energy purchase commitments that would spur the development of new projects, rather than purchasing power from existing wind and solar farms. The latest agreements should lead to the construction of more than $2 billion in new energy infrastructure, Google said, including millions of solar panels and hundreds of wind turbines. 

Google has been a carbon-neutral company since 2007. In both 2017 and 2018, the company matched its electricity consumption with renewable energy. 

Google on Thursday also announced two new Google.org grants to support wider use of renewable energy. It's giving a $500,000 grant to Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance (REBA) in the US and a 500,000 euro grant to RE-Source in Europe. 

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