Jeff Bezos just pledged $10B to fight climate change. This is a big deal. Bezos has a history (and reputation) of someone who doesn’t think much of philanthropy. Presumably he is more of a traditional libertarian type, expecting nothing good from the public sector and assuming all problems will eventually be solved by private market dynamics. In this he also positioned himself as a very different creature than his Seattle neighbor, Mr. Gates. This pledge challenges all that, potentially giving Bezos huge influence in global Environmental initiatives. In fact, Bezos is probably going to reshape the climate initiative landscape as fundamentaly as Gates has re-shaped the public health landscape over the last 15 years.
I personally think pledging to fight climate change is awesome. I also think that Bezos signaling the importance of doing something about climate change is a sign that being concerned about the climate crisis is becoming mainstream, which is good news and will put pressure on others to follow.
Yet, on my twitter feed, I get a lot of skepticism about the announcement:
Just a reminder that the very simplest and easiest thing Jeff Bezos could do to have a large impact with regard to fighting climate change *right now* would be to simply cancel all of his own company's oil + gas contracts.https://t.co/2FhsqbH0yU— Brian Merchant (@bcmerchant) February 17, 2020
So does a $10 billion climate change solution pledge balance this out? Not trolling, just asking. https://t.co/F8KPAsHcbT— Christopher Mims 🎆 (@mims) February 17, 2020
What is going on?
Well for starters when it comes to climate change, Amazon has plenty of skeleton in their closet:
- They are directly responsible for massive emissions (to the tune of 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, according to their own estimates);
- They are directly supporting large climate offenders;
- They are shitty to their employees, especially to those employees who are speaking up on their environmental concerns ;
- Oh, and their e-commerce business is basically pumping plastic into the world
What does this pledge mean and why now?
Obviously, Bezos wants to be in tune with the market. As a critical mass of consumers (changemakers!) reshape their consumer behaviour in line with their concern for the environment, Amazon needs to clean up their act in order to survive into the future. He also wants to signal to regulators and investors. That’s straight forward.
But I think what pushed him to this is something slightly different.
Amazon is competing in (and dominating) some tough markets – retail, cloud, logistics. But their toughest competition is actually the talent market. In order to stay on the top of their game, they need to ensure they recruit, retain and motivate the best people on the market. This is tough market to dominate. Benefits and perks are part of the game, but then, everyone offers competitive benefits and perks.
Once the benefits and perks are sorted, a whole new generation of professionals want more in their life. They want purpose. It is super important for this generation to feel that they add a net positive value into their world and that they contribute to business models that they believe in.
The best employees care about purpose
Amazon has been struggling with keeping their best people bleeding every day and giving it all to basically enable a company that has a net negative impact to the world AND its main purpose is lining up the pockets of Uncle Scrooge.
So I reckon this is Bezos dealing with his Uncle Scrooge problem. To change his company’s perception in the market, but mainly to ensure that they manage to attract and retain the best talent in a generation of professionals who care profoundly about purpose.
This are the early days of the Purpose Economy. Expect to see more and more radical efforts from large tech companies as they are competing with each other for their most important resource: motivated, passionate talent.
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