Amazon has dismissed claims that “a few departures” from its cloud arm’s sustainability team, coupled with its ongoing hiring freeze, are slowing the the company’s progress in helping its customers reduce their carbon emissions.
Sources close to the company alerted Computer Weekly to the fact that several people, of varying degrees of seniority but all with durability as part of their job duties, had left Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the past nine month.
The newest and most high-profile is Christopher Wellise, who served as director of global sustainability and carbon at AWS for just over two years before leaving in January 2023. He is now vice president of global sustainability at colocation giant Equinix.
His departure came a month after AWS sustainability-focused analyst relations manager Derek DeShane left the company a year after being named to the role in December 2021.
Six months prior, in June 2022, Adrian Cockcroft, the vice president of sustainability architecture, whose mission included helping AWS customers make their business operations more sustainable, also left the company.
“They haven’t replaced key staff and only seem to be hiring sustainability ‘sales’ managers, who are there to generate revenue rather than drive improvements,” said a source, who spoke to Computer Weekly on condition of anonymity.
Computer Weekly reached out to Amazon asking for clarification on whether the vacancies vacated by the aforementioned individuals had been filled, but the company failed to answer the question directly.
In November 2022, Amazon released an employee letter confirming that the company had has implemented a “pause on additional new hires” across its workforce that is expected to last for the “next few months”.
The letter attributed the move to the “unusual macro-economic environment” and said the company would replace employees who move to “new opportunities” and that there would remain “targeted locations” where hiring would continue.
“This is not the first time we have faced uncertain and difficult economies in the past,” said the letter, written by Beth Galetti, senior vice president of people experience and technology at Amazon. “While we had several years where we greatly increased our workforce, there were also several years where we tightened our belts and were more streamlined in the number of people we added.
“With fewer people to hire right now, this should give every team the opportunity to prioritize more of what matters most to customers and the business, and be more productive.”
Several months after the publication of the letter, in February 2023Cockcroft published a blog post on Medium featuring a summary of all the sustainability-focused presentations made during the AWS Re:Invent Customer and Partner Conferencewhich took place over several days in Las Vegas starting in late November 2022.
“The keynotes didn’t introduce anything new on carbon, just reiterated the [company’s] existing pathway to 100% green energy by 2025,” he wrote. “AWS has had some new objectives around the sustainable use of water who are quite aggressive and welcome.
Impact on sustainability teams
The post also alluded to some conversations he’d had with AWS contacts, which suggested the hiring freeze had impacted the productivity of the company’s sustainability teams, particularly those tasked with implementing updated on AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool.
Introduced in March 2022, the tool is freely available to AWS customers and designed to help them calculate the size of their cloud infrastructure’s carbon footprint.
“There have been no news or updates to the AWS Customer Carbon Footprint tool”, wrote Cockcroft in the blog. “I’ve asked around and heard they’re still working on it, but the AWS hiring freeze means they don’t have the headcount they expected and are making slow progress on an API , more detailed metrics and Scope 3 [emissions measurements]that everyone is waiting for.
Computer Weekly submitted Cockcroft’s claims to AWS and also asked the company for a response to the suggestion that the hiring freeze was affecting the productivity of its sustainability teams, and received the following statement in response:
“Any suggestion that a few departures from the company would impact our commitment to sustainability is false,” a company spokesperson said. “Amazon’s hiring strategy, including AWS, has no impact on our goal of creating a sustainable business for our customers and achieving net zero carbon by 2040.”
To underscore this point, the company reiterated that Amazon had achieved 85% of its goal of powering all of its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 several years ago in 2021.
“And we are making progress on our recently announced commitment to make AWS water positive by 2030,” the spokesperson added. “These are just two examples of how we continue to invest in addressing climate change and decarbonizing our operations to help solve this crisis.”