What are Tech Giants doing about Climate Change?

Tech and retail giants Amazon, Apple, and Google are among 25 companies not doing enough to meet their own pledges to slash greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, a new report finds.

Titled the “Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor,” the report released Monday by the New Climate Institute finds that the companies’ emissions targets “fall well short of the ambition required to align with the internationally agreed goals of the Paris Agreement and avoid the most damaging effects of climate change.”

“We were frankly surprised and disappointed at the overall integrity of the companies’ claims,” Thomas Day, lead author of the study, said in a press release. “As pressure on companies to act on climate change rises, their ambitious-sounding headline claims all too often lack real substance, which can mislead both consumers and the regulators that are core to guiding their strategic direction. Even companies that are doing relatively well exaggerate their actions.”

While the report hit companies like Nestle, Unilever and CVS Health over their failure to implement plans to achieve net-zero emissions in a transparent fashion, just three of the 25 covered — Maersk, Vodafone and Deutsche Telekom, all of which are based in Europe — were found to have committed to “deep decarbonization of over 90% of their full value chain emissions.” Deutsche Telekom, based in Germany, and Vodafone, in the United Kingdom, are telecommunications companies. Maersk is a Danish logistics company.

For Apple, Google and Amazon, three of the world’s biggest tech firms, the report found that the companies still had work to do if they were to live up to their climate change promises and avoid further accusations of “greenwashing,” a term used by environmentalists to criticize organizations that are more talk than action when it comes to cutting emissions. Apple, Google and Amazon are the first-, third- and fourth-biggest U.S. companies, respectively, by total stock value. Microsoft is the second largest, but it was not included in the study.

Amazon

A small toy shopping cart with an Amazon logo in the background.
A small toy shopping cart is seen in front of an Amazon logo. (Dado Ruvic/Illustration/Reuters)

The report ranked the “integrity” and “transparency” of Amazon’s pledge to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 as “low,” concluding that goal “remains unsubstantiated.”

“Amazon is in the process of developing more detailed targets under the SBTi [Science Based Targets] process, which are due to be published in 2022,” the report states. “In the meantime, there is neither explicit clarity on the coverage of its target — including whether it just refers to carbon dioxide emissions or to all greenhouse gases — nor on the extent to which it plans to achieve the target through delivering actual emission reductions, as opposed to procuring offset credits.”

In a statement to Yahoo News, Amazon said that the company was “five years ahead” of its original goal of “powering operations with 100% renewable energy.”

“We have committed to Shipment Zero, which is our goal to deliver 50% of Amazon shipments with net-zero carbon by 2030,” the statement said. “We’re deploying 100,000 electric delivery vehicles by 2030 that will save millions of metric tons of carbon and reduce local air pollution. Finally, we are investing in new decarbonizing services and solutions through our $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund, which includes investments in start-ups such as ZeroAvia, Infinium, and Rivian to reduce transportation sector emissions.”

Google

A propped-up mobile phone screen and a laptop screen display the Google logo.
The Google logo is displayed on a mobile phone screen and a laptop screen. (Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Google has an even more ambitious target than Amazon, having pledged net-zero emissions by 2030. Yet, like Amazon, the Mountain View, Calif.,-based company doesn’t fare well in the report, which rated both the integrity and transparency of Google’s plan as “low.”

“Google’s plans for the decarbonization of its electricity-related emissions are comprehensive and innovative, but it is unclear if the targets and measures for other emission sources are sufficient, especially for scope 3 emissions, which represent the majority of Google’s [greenhouse gas] emission footprint,” the report states. Scope 3 emissions are those that are produced after a product is manufactured, such as when transporting it to the customer. “Major scope 3 emission sources that accounted for 60% of the company’s [greenhouse gas] emissions in 2020 are omitted from the carbon neutrality claim,” the report adds.

The New Climate Institute report was not entirely unkind to Google, however, noting that the company “is developing innovative tools to procure high quality renewable energy in real-time.”

Alex Joseph, a Google spokesman, sent Yahoo News a statement in response to the report, saying that the company’s new goal includes scope 1 emissions, which are directly created during the production of a company’s products, and scope 2 emissions, which come from energy use.

We clearly define the scope of our climate commitments and regularly report on our progress in our annual Environmental Report, where our energy and greenhouse gas emissions data is assured by Ernst & Young [the accounting firm]. We have long acknowledged that operational carbon neutrality through 100% renewable energy match and high-quality offsetting is only a step on our sustainability journey,” Joseph said.

“Our new goal is to achieve net-zero emissions across all of our operations and value chain by 2030. We aim to reduce the majority of our emissions (versus our 2019 baseline) before 2030. This goal covers scopes 1, 2 and 3, including reaching 24/7 Carbon-Free Energy by 2030 — one of the most ambitious energy goals on the books. We’re proud of the progress we’re making — in 2020 we achieved 67% carbon-free on an hourly basis across our data centers, up from 61% in 2019.”

Apple

A cutout of the Apple logo hangs in a store window.
The Apple logo hangs at the Apple Carnegie Library store in Washington, D.C. (Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images)

Of the three big U.S. tech companies singled out in the report, Apple received the highest marks, with its pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 receiving a “reasonable” grade in terms of transparency and a “moderate” finding in terms of integrity. Overall, the report found that “Apple’s emission reduction plans are reasonably comprehensive and already led to a significant decrease in emissions in recent years,” but noted that the iPhone maker also needed to clarify some aspects of its net-zero plan.

“Apple’s headline on their environmental website reads ‘We’re carbon neutral. And by 2030, every product you love will be too,’” the report states. “It could be misleading for Apple to describe itself as carbon neutral already, as carbon neutrality claimed for 2020 covers solely its operations (scopes 1 and scope 2), business travel, and employee commuting, which together account for only 1.5% of the company’s [greenhouse gas] footprint. Apple’s main headline target for carbon neutrality by 2030 will address the remaining 98.5% of its emissions.”

While the report noted that the company has set about slashing emissions to achieve its pledge, the devil may be in the details.

“Apple’s target for carbon neutrality by 2030 equates to 62% emission reductions between 2019 and 2030. Based on its 2030 carbon-neutral target, Apple set a 75% emission reduction target by 2030 compared to a 2015 baseline. SBTi approved the translation of this target to a 62% reduction by 2030 from 2019 levels as 1.5 °C compatible,” the report states.

“While a 62% emission reduction between 2019 and 2030 represents a steep decarbonization pathway, this is a long way from carbon neutrality; a continuation of this pathway would put Apple on track for significantly deeper decarbonization by 2035 or 2040.”

The Yucatan Times
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