The markets where Amazon’s Jeff Bezos might best spend his billions earmarked to save Earth
‘Wood of the future’ is just one area for consideration
At least one money manager believes Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos — who pledged $10 billion to fight climate change from his personal fortune earned by upending global commerce — should funnel his hefty donation into green technology.
Steve Freedman, senior product specialist at Geneva-based Pictet Asset Management, posted his short list in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, and its release comes as a persistent chorus hounds Bezos and Amazon to help offset the large carbon footprint of the retail giant that speedily delivers packages to doorsteps.
Bezos, who owns the Washington Post in addition to Amazon
, announced in February that he’s pledging $10 billion to fight climate change for his Bezos Earth Fund.
“From the futuristic (such as drones which generate wind power) to the prosaic (water pressure monitors which anticipate pipe leaks), there is a growing range of viable environmental technologies [that Bezos] could channel that money to,” said Freedman. “Drawing on our own two-decade experience in thematic impact investment, we highlight three areas that are particularly well-placed to benefit from Bezos’s billions.”
1. Wood of the future. Traditional building materials such as cement and steel are very energy-intensive to manufacture. In contrast, wood-based building materials may not only require less energy to produce, but, more importantly, can also act as carbon storage for the duration of their existence. The engineered-wood market is forecast to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 25% and because it is at an early stage of development, it would benefit from both more funding for fundamental and applied research.
2. Clean batteries. In the U.S. alone it is estimated that 120 gigawatts of energy storage will be needed by 2050, five times more than is currently available. Research could focus on improving the environmental footprint of batteries (in particular lithium-ion) and on improving their recyclability. Additionally, while advances have been made for short-term storage, the integration of renewable energy at scale into the power grid requires robust solutions for longer-term storage. Hydrogen storage, if it can be perfected, could be a viable solution to store surplus renewable energy.
3. Green plastic. Plastic could shake its bad environmental reputation with more advancement for viable, bio-based biodegradable plastics to replace the current fossil fuel-based plastics. These either release CO2 into the atmosphere if incinerated after use, or pollute ecosystems if left to decompose. Today’s bioplastics are an improvement because they reduce reliance on fossil fuels, but many are synthesized to be chemically equivalent to conventional plastics, which means they will have the same adverse environmental impact at the end of their lifecycle. By 2027, the value of the global biodegradable plastics markets is forecast to reach $12.4 billion, about a four-fold increase in a decade.
Bezos, who has a net worth variously estimated at between $100 billion and $130 billion, depending on the value of Amazon stock and his other assets, said he’ll start issuing grants from his personal fund beginning this summer.
As for Bezos’s Amazon, the company this week announced plans to spend a $10 million slice of its already-rolled-out $100 million environmental program on the Appalachian Mountains and other forested U.S. regions in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy and other groups.
The delivery giant last September announced a goal to meet Paris Climate Agreement objectives 10 years early, with a pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040, even for its Prime one-day shipping service. Amazon will also work toward using 100% renewable energy by 2030 and has placed a big order for electric vans from a Midwest company, Rivian, in which the online retailer invested $440 million.
In January, more than 300 employees at Amazon signed their names and job titles to a petition on a Medium blog post. The online protest was organized by a group called Amazon Employees For Climate Justice who wanted the company to do more to offset its carbon footprint and who alleged that employees had faced internal pressure for speaking out.
“It’s our moral responsibility to speak up, and the changes to the communications policy are censoring us from exercising that responsibility,” said Sarah Tracy, a software development engineer at Amazon, in a statement at the time.