Washington: Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged Thursday the US technology and retail giant would become carbon neutral by 2040 and encourage other firms to do the same, in a bid to help meet the goals of the Paris climate accord 10 years early.
"We want to use our scope and our scale to lead the way," Bezos told a news conference in the US capital, aiming to shake off the firm's reputation as a laggard on environmental issues.
Amazon announced its "Climate Pledge" initiative and said it would be its first signatory as part of an effort to reduce emissions in line with a 2050 goal for carbon neutrality set by the Paris agreement.
"We're done being in the middle of the herd on this issue," 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."
Bezos said he had spoken with other CEOs of global companies, and noted "I'm finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge."
As part of the ramped-up effort, Bezos said Amazon had agreed to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans from vehicle startup Rivian, to help cut its carbon footprint. Amazon previously announced a $440 million investment in Rivian.
The first vans will hit the road in 2021, with the fleet to be fully operational in 2030. Amazon also pledged to invest $100 million on reforestation efforts in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy.
Bezos's announcement came the day before a global day of demonstrations to demand action on climate change, ahead of a UN summit on zero emissions on September 23.
Amazon faces mounting pressure to address its environmental impact, with more than 1,000 of its workers planning to walk off the job Friday as part of the Global Climate Strike.
Asked about the Amazon employees set to join the strike, Bezos called it "totally understandable." "People are passionate about this issue," he said. "Everybody in this room should be passionate about this issue."
Bezos was joined by Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief and founder of the climate activist group Global Optimism. "With this step, Amazon also helps many other companies to accelerate their own decarbonization," Figueres said.
"If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge. We are excited to have others join."
Bezos said he expects Amazon to reach a goal of 80 percent renewable energy use by 2024, up from around 40 percent today, and 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 on a path to net zero carbon by 2040.
This will involve investments in wind and solar energy projects and initiatives to curb carbon emissions at its facilities including the second headquarters, HQ2, just outside the US capital.
Bezos said that Amazon's move to speedier shipping, including one-day delivery on many items, would be a net positive in environment terms even though it was "counterintuitive." "The reason is, that once you get to one day and same day, you can't really do it by air transportation anymore," he said.
This means keeping warehouses and products closer to the consumer and as a result "you're actually transporting the products in a very efficient way, a very short distance," which becomes less carbon-intensive, he said.