Update: Amazon announces $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund

Update: This post has been updated to indicate that although Rodrigo Prudencio’s profile on LinkedIn stated, “I lead investments for Amazon’s $2B Climate Pledge Fund” the fund is led by Matt Peterson on Amazon’s corporate development team and Kara Hurst, who leads the company’s sustainability team, according to an Amazon spokesperson. Prudencio deleted his original description of his role without comment.

Amazon has announced its $2 billion Climate Pledge Fund to invest in sustainable technologies and services that will help the company reach its commitment to be net-zero carbon in its operations by 2040.

It’s a sizable commitment from a company that has been criticized for its contributions to carbon emissions in its own operations and the work that the company has done for some of the world’s largest polluters like ExxonMobil (through its Amazon Web Services business).

It comes on the heels of Jeff Bezos’ announcement earlier this year that he’d be committing $10 billion of his personal wealth to investments in initiatives that mitigate global climate change.

The commitments from Bezos did little to blunt criticism of the company he leads — especially after the company terminated eight employees for allegedly speaking out over the company’s climate record. In a statement issued during the company’s May shareholder meeting, a representative of the organization Amazon Employees for Climate Justice criticized the company for “environmental racism.”

In its statement, the group called for Amazon to commit to zero emissions by 2030 while investing first in the communities that the organization said were most impacted by Amazon’s operations.

“Toxicity is embedded in our operations as pollution causes stunted lung development, asthma and higher death rates from COVID-19 concentrated in Black and brown communities,” said Maren Costa, a spokesperson for the organization.

As part of its own work on the issue of climate change, Amazon committed to the Climate Pledge to reduce its emissions to net-zero by 2040. Other corporate signatories include TechCrunch’s parent company, Verizon, and Infosys.

The $2 billion fund announced today will look to back companies that can help signatories to the pledge reduce their impact, according to a statement from Amazon founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos.

“The Climate Pledge Fund will look to invest in the visionary entrepreneurs and innovators who are building products and services to help companies reduce their carbon impact and operate more sustainably,” Bezos said. “Companies from around the world of all sizes and stages will be considered, from preproduct startups to well-established enterprises. Each prospective investment will be judged on its potential to accelerate the path to zero carbon and help protect the planet for future generations.”

The fund appears to be led by longtime clean tech investor, Rodrigo Prudencio, according to the investor’s updated LinkedIn profile. (UPDATE: Since receiving a notification from a corporate spokesperson at Amazon that the true heads of the new fund are Matt Peterson on Amazon’s corporate development team and and Kara Hurst, who leads the company’s sustainability team, according to an Amazon spokesperson, Prudencio deleted his description of his role with the new fund.)

Prudencio was one of the early investors in the first wave of clean tech financing with the venture capital firm Nth Power. First as an associate and then as a partner at the firm, Prudencio focused primarily on information technology investments including SynapSense, which improved energy efficiency in data centers, and TerraPass, a provider of carbon offsets.

Earlier this year, Amazon committed to a massive $700 million investment in the electric truck manufacturer Rivian. On the heels of that deal, Amazon ordered 100,000 vehicles from the vehicle maker.

In its statement, Amazon said the Climate Pledge Fund will invest in companies in multiple industries, including transportation and logistics, energy generation, storage and utilization, manufacturing and materials, circular economy and food and agriculture.

The company also said it would look to get other corporate signatories to its Climate Pledge involved in the venture investment program.

Alongside the venture fund commitment, Amazon announced the results of its sustainability report, which showed that the company was on a path to reach 100% renewable energy powering its operations by 2025 through the development of 91 renewable energy projects totaling 2.9 gigawatts of generating capacity.

Amazon also said it had committed to two reforestation projects from its $100 million Right Now Climate Fund in an urban greening initiative in Berlin and a reforestation project in the Appalachians. It also touted its work reducing outbound packaging by 33% and its elimination of more than 880,000 tons of packaging material.

The commitment aligns the company with other big tech corporations like Alphabet (which announced it was buying 5.5 gigawatts of renewable power last year) and Microsoft, which laid out the most aggressive strategic response to climate change of any tech company earlier this year and launched a fund of its own.

That $1 billion fund, headed by Brandon Middaugh, was formed with a commitment to invest in carbon reduction and removal technologies, the company said at the time of its launch. Since then Microsoft has been mum about its plans and investments.

The $1 billion fund is part of that effort to reduce emissions from suppliers and customers by financing projects and technologies that can reduce emissions and meet four criteria, including: the ability to drive meaningful decarbonization, climate resilience or other sustainability-related goals; have additional market impacts for future climate solutions; can address Microsoft’s own climate debt; and have implications for the unequal distribution of climate impacts.