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Whoops... your strategy's showing

Nick Elsom

Amazon has recently launched an ad which trumpets a ‘Climate Pledge'. Ta-da!

Very laudable and quite right too. Amazon’s own performance has only been reported since 2018, when employee pressure forced the company’s hand, and it really hasn’t been exemplary. According to Fortune, emissions linked to its business operations increased to almost 61 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

During a period in which the pandemic contributed to incredible growth, the commercial demands of the business remain distinctly divergent with the achievement of any meaningful reduction. Fossil fuel emissions grew by nearly 70% in 2021, along with the Amazon fleet of jets. We may need those vacuum bags and AA batteries right now, but there’s an eco-cost. In this context, Amazon’s cleanup aims - or at least its employees’ - may forever be playing catch up with getting what customers want into customers’ hands.

So an investment in communication, and a ‘pledge’ which to date has 108 corporate signatories, may be the only way Amazon can appear to eke away at that inevitable and growing gap. The ad presents us with a series of accusatory and clearly frustrated children and young people, angry at - presumably - the failure of adults to properly contain our worst anti-planet impulses. Quite who this was aimed at is unclear. A broad cross-section of adults may agree with the sentiment of these young people’s more militant eco-activism, but it’s unlikely many are motivated by being hectored. “What’s it gonna take for you to do something?” challenges one such youngster. “Do more sustainable farming - it’s a thing now” whines another. It seems rather as if the ad is aimed at no-one in particular, it’s simply riding a zeitgeist of well-meaning sentiment. One hundred and eight global corporations effecting real change will undoubtedly make a real difference, and it’s rather disingenuous for these scripts to imply that change isn’t already happening.

‘We at Amazon really are committed to being green’ must be the desired take out. And it’s one I find myself not believing in the slightest, placing it firmly next to another, equally transparent campaign, essentially; ‘we at Amazon are committed to our staff’. In this charming vignette, a delighted employee shares her story of retraining and a rebooted life as an engineer. If there weren’t so many contradictory stories of staff being treated simply as replaceable units, this might warm the heart. Instead, it rather rolls the eyes.

Obviously it’s very difficult to be a retailing behemoth without ruffling a few feathers. And some people will just be haters because Amazon is there. The Jeff Bezos cock-rocket certainly wasn’t fuelled by unicorn farts and quinoa, belching instead large quantities of ozone-damaging water vapour and NOx on its merry way. No need to carbon offset then, and perhaps Amazon is playing the long game as sunblock sales increase. Win-win!

However. Nestled alongside all this rather remedial PR, there’s a little gem.

Amazon Prime owned the rights to the US Open, and once it became clear the Raducanu express wasn't about to run out of steam, the rights to show the live final were offered, and taken up by Channel 4. Better still, whatever was paid to Amazon is reported to have been re-directed to grassroots tennis. 

Certainly tennis isn’t as big a topic as the planet. But at least as a gesture, it appears true, thoughtful and honest. More of that might be a better idea in building trust than grandiose but distinctly shaky pledges.