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Amazon denies claims hiring freeze is slowing AWS sustainability work

Amazon’s cloud arm has seen several high-profile departures leave its sustainability teams, but the company denies its hiring freeze is stalling efforts to help AWS customers bring their carbon emissions down

Amazon has dismissed claims that a “few departures” from its cloud arm’s sustainability team, coupled with its ongoing hiring freeze, is slowing the company’s progress towards helping its customers curb their carbon emissions.

Sources close to the company alerted Computer Weekly to the fact that several individuals, of varying degrees of seniority but all with sustainability as part of their job roles, had departed Amazon Web Services (AWS) in the past nine months.

The most-recent and high-profile is Christopher Wellise, who served as AWS’s director of worldwide sustainability and carbon for just over two years before departing in January 2023. He is now the vice-president of global sustainability at colocation giant Equinix.

His departure occurred one month after AWS’s sustainability-focused analyst relations manager, Derek DeShane, left the company one year after being appointed to that position in December 2021.

Six months prior to this, in June 2022, Adrian Cockcroft, the vice-president of sustainability architecture, whose remit included helping AWS customers make their business operations more sustainable, also left the business.

“They haven’t replaced key staff and only seem to be recruiting front-end sustainability ‘sales’ heads, who are there to drive revenue rather than drive improvements,” said one source, who spoke to Computer Weekly on condition of anonymity.

Computer Weekly contacted Amazon to seek clarification on whether the roles left vacant by the aforementioned individuals had been filled, but the company neglected to directly answer the question.

Read more about AWS and sustainability

In November 2022, Amazon went public with an employee letter that confirmed the company had implemented a “pause on new incremental hires” across its workforce that is set to last for the “next few months”.

The letter attributed the move to the “unusual macro-economic environment”, and said the company will replace employees who move on to “new opportunities” and that there will remain some “targeted places” where hiring will continue.

“This is not the first time we’ve faced uncertain and challenging economies in the past,” the letter, authored by Beth Galetti, senior vice-president of people experience and technology at Amazon, stated. “While we have had several years where we’ve expanded our headcount broadly, there have also been several years where we’ve tightened our belt and were more streamlined in how many people we added.

“With fewer people to hire at this moment, this should give each team an opportunity to further prioritise what matters most to customers and the business, and to be more productive.”

Several months after the letter was made public, in February 2023, Cockcroft published a blog post on Medium featuring a round-up of all of the sustainability-focused presentations made during the AWS Re:Invent customer and partner conference, which took place over several days in Las Vegas from late November 2022.

“The keynotes didn’t feature anything new on carbon, just reiterated the [company’s] existing path to 100% green energy by 2025,” he wrote. “AWS did have some new goals around sustainable water use that are quite aggressive and welcome.”

Impact on sustainability teams

The post also alluded to some conversations he had with contacts from AWS, who suggested the hiring freeze had impacted on the productivity of the firm’s sustainability teams, particularly those tasked with updating the 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 was no news or updates to the AWS Customer Carbon Footprint Tool,” wrote Cockcroft in the blog. “I asked around and heard that they are still working on it, but the AWS hiring freeze means that they don’t have the headcount they expected and are making slow progress on an API, more detailed metrics and Scope 3 [emissions measurements], which everyone is waiting for.”

Computer Weekly put Cockcroft’s claims to AWS, and also asked the firm for a response to the suggestion 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 impact our commitment to sustainability is false,” a company spokesperson said. “Amazon’s hiring strategy, inclusive of AWS, has no impact on our goal to build a sustainable business for our customers and reach net-zero carbon by 2040.”

To emphasise this point, the company reiterated that Amazon reached 85% on its goal to power its entire operations on 100% renewable energy by 2025 several years ago in 2021.

“And we’re 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’re continuing to invest in fighting climate change and decarbonising our operations to help solve this crisis.”

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