Environmental groups accuse Amazon of ‘distorting the truth’ in latest clean-energy claim

The company said it reached a goal of sourcing all its power from clean energy sources in the past year.


On Wednesday, Amazon claimed that it reached its goal of sourcing all its power from clean energy sources in the past year. If taken at face value, the announcement would mean it hit the milestone seven years ahead of schedule, which would be a monumental achievement. But environmental experts speaking to The New York Times, including a group of concerned Amazon employees, warn that the company is “misleading the public by distorting the truth.”

The company’s claim of achieving 100 percent clean electricity is based in part on billion-dollar investments in over 500 solar and wind initiatives. The company’s logic is that the energy these projects generate equals the electricity its data centers consume — ergo, even Steven.

But the renewable energy sources it uses for those calculations are fed into a general power grid, not exclusively into Amazon’s operations. Environmental experts caution that the company is using “accounting and marketing to make itself look good,” as The New York Times put it.

“Amazon wants us to think of its data centers as surrounded by wind and solar farms,” the group Amazon Employees for Climate Justice wrote in a statement to The NYT. “[But] the reality is the company is heavily investing in data center expansions fueled by West Virginian coal, Saudi Arabian oil and Canadian fracked gas.”

Green plains filled with large windmills. Blue sky.
Green plains filled with large windmills. Blue sky. (Amazon)

Clean energy experts say Amazon’s inclusion of renewable energy certificates (RECs) in its calculations can be highly misleading. This is because if any power plants on a grid burn fossil fuels, businesses can’t know that the grid uses only clean energy. The Amazon employee group told The New York Times that, after subtracting the company’s use of RECs in its calculations, its clean-energy investment was “just a fraction of what was publicized.”

“Buying a bunch of RECs doesn’t help anything,” Leah Stokes, associate professor of environmental politics at UC Santa Barbara, told The NYT. “You just have to be investing in real projects.”

To be fair, any movement toward clean energy should be applauded. Amazon still received a “B” grade from the nonprofit CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), which was lower than Google and Microsoft’s “A” but still a passing grade. The problem comes when companies use the smoke and mirrors more often associated with marketing and PR to mislead the public into believing they’re doing more for the environment than they are.

“A company needs to actually outline, what are the sources that you are accounting for in that calculation?” Simon Fischweicher, a CDP director, told The NYT.

With the meteoric rise of AI and the financial pressures to compete in this new gold rush, companies are now reshuffling their decks and finding new ways to meet their climate goals. However, if that shakeup offers less tangible movement and more weasel words and sketchy logic, then that’s creating a new problem on top of their alleged solutions for a genuine crisis.