Businesses Facing Climate Change
6:44 pm
Tue June 7, 2011

Is Amazon.com sustainable?

Amazon.com has been thriving, despite the economic downturn. Shares in the company are now worth more than five times a much as they were five years ago, thanks in part to innovations such as its electronic book reader, the Kindle, or its move into data storage of all kinds of things "in the cloud."

But it's just these futuristic lines of business that have some shareholders worried. 

For the first time in its history, Amazon.com has been asked by a major shareholder to start reporting on the risks to its bottom line caused by climate change. Rebecca Henson is a sustainability analyst with Calvert Asset Management.

"As Amazon.com grows its web services business and cloud computing business and as products like the Kindle become increasingly popular, amazon will be less and less equipped to deal with the environmental and sustainability impacts that are related to those very important business lines," Henson says.

She says those activities suck up a lot of electricity. So shareholders want to know, for example, what Amazon.com is doing to save energy, or how it's factoring in future costs of carbon emissions.

Calvert is a socially responsible investment firm that holds more than 300-thousand shares in the company. They say it's not just about doing the right thing for the environment, but also managing risk – just as other big players such as Google, Apple and eBay are already doing.

But the company's proxy statement advised against approval of the Calvert-backed initiative. Amazon.com's board says the kind of reporting Calvert is demanding would not be an efficient use of time and resources and they have other ways of ensuring the company's sustainability.

Shareholders rejected the measure at the annual meeting in Seattle. 

You can listen to a webcast of the meeting and see powerpoint slides from the presentations on the investor relations section of Amazon.com's website.