Ideas | Sustainability
What the Bezos Earth Fund tells us about stakeholder influence
The world’s richest man has made one of the largest single endowments in history – £10 billion of his personal fortune to combat climate change.
And while Jeff Bezos has been notoriously sluggish in comparison to some of his more philanthropic peers, most commentators have of course welcomed the news. Carbon breakthroughs are not possible without hardcore investment.
But, in a true sign of the times, widespread scepticism surrounds the announcement.
So, what does all this tell us about stakeholder influence?
- Stakeholders are more powerful than ever before
The Bezos Earth Fund did not sprout of its own accord. It is the result of significant and sustained pressure from a union of activist groups – most notably the Amazon Employees for Climate Justice who emerged on Twitter last year to voice protest from within the business.
These employees staged a 1,800-strong climate walkout in September 2019, made a splash at the AGM and crowdsourced commentary on Amazon’s climate plan.
Most remarkably, they defied potential dismissal following the accusation that Amazon’s legal team threatened to fire anyone speaking out on environmental matters.
Their success embodies the enormous influence of the stakeholder voice, underscores the strength of social media as a lever for change and serves as a high-profile advertisement for the power of collective, yet largely anonymous, action.
- Stakeholders are more sophisticated than ever before
Eye-catching figures aside, the activists behind Bezos know that it will take more than one donation to “save Earth”, as the press release has put it. Even when that donation amounts to the GDP of a small country.
This is because Amazon’s carbon footprint also amounts to that of a small country, leading employees, customers and NGOs to point out that “one hand cannot give what the other is taking away”.
Another way of looking at it is that the days of corporate social responsibility – or “giving back” - have given way to the expectation of concrete ESG action – integrated, systems-level strategies to embed sustainability at the heart of corporations.
For many of Amazon’s stakeholders, this means the need for more than the 2040 net zero commitment made at the end of last year. It means less packaging across the billions of shipments that Amazon sends each year, more green energy to power its vast data management business, less technological support for the oil & gas sector, and an electric overhaul of its last-mile delivery fleet.
- Stakeholder engagement is not isolated by issue
If ever we needed more evidence of how tricky it has become to control the narrative in our digital age, look no further than the proliferating opinion pieces already discussing the Earth Fund in the same breath as Amazon’s provocative tax practices and wonky workplace standards.
This is not just critics reflexively grumbling at Amazon making positive headlines. It is an indication that stakeholder pressure follows the same rules of interdependency and interconnectivity that shape the broader risk landscape for corporates.
As for the bigger picture, it is proof that companies will be increasingly judged on all their ESG credentials, with not one of those three letters left behind.
Active engagement, authentic communication and consistent reporting are critical to meeting stakeholder and ESG demands. Read our latest whitepaper to find out how you can build a powerful climate strategy and get in contact at firstname.lastname@example.org