Rebecca Sheppard is a 28-year-old Senior Product Manager at Amazon. She has been working for the tech giant in Seattle for two and a half years. It's a good job, in an area she loves. But this month, along with twenty other employees, she risked this stability to help launch what the New York Times called "the largest employee-led movement on climate change in the influential sector of the economy." technology".
As part of Amazon employees for climate justiceSheppard and his peers helped circulate an open letter inviting CEO Jeff Bezos and the company's board of directors to adopt a company-wide plan to combat climate change, naming a handful of specific requests . These demands include reducing carbon emissions at a rate consistent with the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and that the company breaks its ties with companies that accelerate fossil fuel extraction.
By Friday, April 12, some 6,000 employees had signed the letter, nearly one-tenth of the company's total staff. "It's hard to exaggerate how rare it is for Amazon," Jason Del Rey, who covers Amazon for Record, noted in a tweet. "(It's very rare)." The letter follows another unique action by employees who saw 16 Amazon workers file shareholder resolutions asking the company to adopt a climate plan.
I contacted Sheppard to find out about the internal movement of the company: how did it go, what did the organization process look like and why were so many employees apparently willing to counter the notorious leaning of Amazon for the secret in order to make this statement. We finally had a broad discussion about the realities of climate change, what it means to organize change in the technology industry and the growing labor movement in Silicon Valley and Seattle.
The conversation offered such a fascinating portal about the growing awareness of workers in the technology sector and how the next generation of professionals is agitating for action to tackle climate change. She has accepted. What you see below is a slightly modified transcript of our conversation.
Gizmodo: So are you comfortable to record on the disc here?
Rebecca Sheppard: Yes, I am comfortable. On the letter, everyone publicly signs his full name and title. I am Rebecca Sheppard. I am Senior Product Manager at Amazon Air. I am in the aviation business.
I think the planes are great, and I think the planes use a lot of jet fuel. I believe that if anyone can find a way to take a stagnant industry like aviation and make it sustainable, it is Amazon. So I'm really motivated, but I do not think we can do it without a global society plan to deal with the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. That's why we have this open letter, this movement, all those employees who come together, both as employees and as owners of Amazon shares. My income is based on the shares of Amazon. Being a person who obviously wants to be financially successful, I want Amazon to be financially successful.
The generations, the times are changing, we are going from baby boomers to millennia and climate change is important. That's what drives our customers' decisions and all kinds of consumer decisions. We want to work for a company that is at the forefront, because I think that's how Amazon stays financially soluble. Amazon has a term called "Day 1"; about how we continue to innovate. This is how we stay on "Day 1".
Gizmodo: This resolution has already garnered thousands of signatures, which seems to have exceeded expectations. How do you feel?
Sheppard: I'm probably feeling the most energetic I've had for six years. I have been working in aviation since 2013 and I do not think I ever felt at home the impact this has on the climate. That being said, I think a lot of people have to take action to make the changes we need. So it's really inspiring, motivating and exciting to work with all those people who feel the same way and realize that we are empowered to make that change, so I feel good.
Gizmodo: How did you get involved in the effort in the first place?
Sheppard: I had a lot of trouble – and I think, again, that a lot of my colleagues think, that is to be motivated to come to work every day. Because it's hard to see stagnation. Amazon innovates, creates constantly, builds, redefines its industries. And yet, I'm in aviation and, honestly, it's not a redesign. And I think there is a lot of potential there. I saw the shareholders' resolution emanating from The New York Times and I immediately made contact with [one of the organizers] by e-mail and she told me that I could involve me more. A group of us has met and the number is growing, especially with this letter. The number of people who want to be more involved is astronomical. This is definitely taking momentum.
Climate change is too important for one person, it is too important for a single company and I think this generation, my generation, tends to worry the most. But it's not only us. You see people who have been in this industry for 30 years and who are just as passionate and committed.
Gizmodo: So you saw that you saw the shareholders' resolution and you got involved. What was the thought behind an open letter like this?
Sheppard: I think it's because we're all proud to be part of something that encourages Amazon to be on the right side of the fight against climate change. And that should not be something that we secretly do, but that we do in the shadows. We do it openly, we do it to be in collaboration with Amazon. And that's because we believe in Amazon. We are all employed by Amazon, we depend on Amazon, and we want to continue working at Amazon to brag about how Amazon ranks first for Google, Facebook, and everyone else. technology companies, but all companies in general. We do not believe that anyone other than Amazon has the power and the capital to lead this movement.
Gizmodo: What is the purpose of the letter, finally?
Sheppard: We want to encourage Jeff Bezos and the board to adopt the resolution. People have only been able to sign the open letter since Monday, so it's a way for us to show how much people Amazon employees are really interested in. To openly encourage Amazon and Amazon that you publicly encourage them, both as employees and owners of Amazon's stock, and as a customers from Amazon – you know, I buy all my goods from Amazon and we want to see them make the right decision and move us forward.
So it really is a matter of publicly encouraging Amazon to have a business plan tailored to the scale and urgency of the climate crisis. And that starts with the adoption of the resolution, with very clear verbiage and very clear dates.
Gizmodo: Amazon is not known to be a public company. The public appeal of the employees surprised people: were there delays, knowing that Amazon, like many other big tech companies, has a culture of secrecy?
Sheppard: We all see ourselves as progressive for Amazon and help Amazon lead the pack in the future. I think that's the kind of dynamic that we're seeing more and more in discussions with Google. With We Will not Build It, I think we find that employees have a lot of power. And there is power in people who have a common cause. Climate change is about preserving our planet and we all depend on our planet. I come from Wilmington, North Carolina, and I have friends and family members who lost their homes because of Hurricane Florence and I, friends who feared for their lives in the forest fires in California. I live on Bainbridge Island and I go to Seattle. Last summer, I could barely breathe because I was sitting outside and breathing all that smoke every day. Climate change is something for which we can no longer keep our heads in the sand.
Gizmodo: Is there any sense that this is spreading? Has any of the other companies communicated?
Sheppard: I know that for my fellow Amazon employees, my colleagues in many other companies, this is an important topic for us. Honestly, in addition to the simple impact of climate change, this has an anxiogenic effect: I have a book club and we talk about our fears about climate change. It has become, especially as a woman: Do you want to have children in a world where you do not know what will happen to the planet?
Gizmodo: Can you speak for a moment about participation in this recruitment effort? You said that the movement was growing, and you talked about Google and informal discussions. We will not build it. It's sort of a new territory for the technology industry. So, how do we feel about organization in this space?
Sheppard: I feel incredibly inspired by the meeting of all my colleagues at Amazon. All the people to whom I shared the letter or asked to sign it were more than enthusiastic: they signed it, shared it and asked how they could get more involved. And so, for me, it has allowed me to feel connected to my colleagues and to invest more in Amazon. It's easy to feel isolated when working in a big company. If you believe in the company you are working for and it will address a significant problem, you are investing much more in the success of this business.
I think that gives power. And I think people are just starting to realize the power we all have together and uniting. We ignored a lot of power, a power from which we could draw and which would bring about a change. We already see this leading to a change: the announcement of Shipment Zero. It came from the resolution. We know that this was directly in line with the original resolution tabled last year. So we see the power we have.
And Shipment Zero was excellent and it showed us that Amazon listened, but they do not take it seriously enough. There are no clear dates. They do not say what they mean by these carbon reductions: is it only planting trees, or carbon offsets? So we are very pleased to see people sign the letter and we believe that the right thing to do is to adopt the resolution and ensure that Amazon is at the forefront of climate action.
Gizmodo: So, let's say the resolution is adopted. What is the ideal scenario? Do you hope to work officially on projects related to the fight against climate change?
Sheppard: Yes. We all have our specialty, our areas of expertise: we have DS [software developers]We have Web UI designers, transportation experts, trucks, aircraft, maintenance, and all these people want to use their unique skills to improve the planet. And so, if we could do that in our role, honestly, it's the most rewarding job. With the signing of the resolution, we believe that Amazon would be empowered to integrate all these efforts into its functions.
I think if anyone can do it, it's Amazon.
Gizmodo: What's next for the movement?
Sheppard: The next steps are to make sure we continue to come together, continue to sign the letter, continue to encourage Amazon to adopt the resolution. I think we made it clear that our voice could be heard, that we had the power and that Amazon was listening, and I hope it will encourage everyone at Amazon to sign the letter. We are at about 5,000 and next week they will be even higher. There is the ability to be disruptive,
Amazon is in a unique place to disrupt and improve a number of areas, and we're all looking forward to helping Amazon do it.
Gizmodo: Is there a particular request or action that is important to you?
Sheppard: I think seeing Amazon working with companies to develop and accelerate oil extraction has been hit very hard. The AWS initiative for oil and gas has been particularly disheartening. I am therefore very happy to see Amazon take a clear position and be on the right side of climate action in this area. I believe that by signing the resolution, they will motivate their employees and improve their stock market outlook. Partnering with oil and gas to extract more of these resources from the planet and speeding up extraction only hurts us. as a society and harm the planet.
Gizmodo: Why did you choose to lobby for action on climate change in particular?
Sheppard: Climate change is really personal. I come from a coastal city and I witnessed the erosion of places where I grew up. The houses sink almost into the ocean, or being In the ocean, as I grew up, I realized that the sea level was rising. That's how I found myself face to face all my life, influenced me a lot. I remember when a neighbor of three roads below me, their porch ended up in our backyard after a hurricane, he really drove me home, I think I was 8 years old at that time there we are all interconnected. What we do in the United States and India in the Middle East has an impact on the entire planet. And we really need to come together as a species to preserve this planet.
The most vulnerable communities are the most affected. I'm lucky enough to be able to live now in Seattle, and my parents can have another house and my friends whose homes were destroyed in Wilmington had places to go but some people from other countries like Bangladesh, do not have one. these options. We need to be compassionate about this and actively feel the effects of climate change, and not just keep our heads in the sand. It's something that I feel, and everyone in this organization and the people of Amazon.
I am excited for them to see the power we have in this movement and realize that we can all drive change together.
Gizmodo: Are you nervous at all by taking your neck publicly like this? Are you worried about the repercussions?
Sheppard: No. If Amazon chooses to send me back because of this, Amazon is not the company they believe. I believe this is the most important problem of our life. All that matters is our position.