Amazon has launched a slew of sustainability initiatives over the years with the goal of meeting more ambitious emissions targets than those set out in the Paris Climate Agreement. But the company's efforts don't account for Scope 3 emissions — i.e., emissions up and down the supply chain — which results in an "F" grade from some climate accountability groups.
Amazon's latest climate initiative also doesn't do anything about Scope 3, but now Alexa device users can make themselves feel a little better about the earth by telling the voice-activated assistant: "Alexa, grow a tree." Climate crisis solved?
Your smart speaker is obviously not planting any trees. Instead, Amazon has partnered with the nonprofit One Tree Planted to plant trees in Appalachia, northern California, Washington, Oregon and India as part of reforestation initiatives. Every time users ask Alexa to grow a tree, they can donate $1 to the charity to pay for one seedling. Amazon is also donating $1 million to the nonprofit to plant one million trees from April through December 2022.
Tree-planting campaigns have long been a popular way for people to show they care about the earth. Who doesn't love a good tree-hugging photo op? But research indicates that planting trees is a relatively inefficient way for large companies to actually slow down climate change. Done improperly, invasive species of trees can throw local ecosystems off-kilter. And even if it’s done carefully, trees would need to replace swaths of farmland to slow climate change at scale.
But that doesn’t stop large companies from launching their own tree-planting programs year after year. Salesforce plans to grow 100 million trees by 2030. Samsung aims to plant twice as many trees in Madagascar as Amazon does overall. And Microsoft planted thousands of trees in 2020 through a partnership with Ecosia.
Planting trees is all well and good, but last week's landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report suggested even more meaningful ways that people can reduce carbon emissions to slow the warmth of our planet. Asking Alexa to donate $1 for a seedling isn't quite as impactful as, say, using public transit or riding an e-bike.