WASHINGTON — Two of the technology industry’s leading figures descended on Washington on Thursday as their companies face growing political pressure.
The executives, Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, showed up for different reasons, and in different places. Mr. Bezos led a morning event at the National Press Club, announcing a commitment by Amazon to be carbon neutral by 2040. Later, Mr. Zuckerberg met with President Trump and held discussions on Capitol Hill about election security, privacy and other issues.
But their presence in Washington highlighted a shared need to try to reshape the public debate about their companies. Amazon and Facebook, as well as Google and Apple, face a variety of broad investigations into their power and influence.
This week, lawmakers held two hearings that focused largely on the industry. One was on the spread of extremism online. In the other, lawmakers urged the country’s top antitrust regulators, who were testifying before them, to be aggressive in their oversight of tech companies.
Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, said it was time for the companies to be more upfront with the public.
“We’ve had a lot of talk from Facebook, and we have a troubling pattern, when they’re up on the Hill, of them saying things that turn out to be either very misleading or at the end of the day it’s just not true or they just don’t follow through on it,” Mr. Hawley said.
Amazon, in addition to the scrutiny from regulators, has faced increasing criticism from its own employees, many of whom say the company needs to do more to combat climate change. More than 1,500 are expected to walk out of work to push their case on Friday, a day of planned climate-related strikes around the world.
The workers have prodded Amazon on three issues: that the company have zero emissions by 2030, that it stop offering custom cloud-computing services that help the oil and gas industry find and extract more fossil fuels and that it stop giving campaign donations to politicians who deny climate change is happening.
Mr. Bezos outlined a plan to reduce the company’s carbon footprint, and instead of joining existing alliances working on climate change, he announced a new effort, Climate Pledge, and said he would push other organizations to join.
To help meet its goal, Mr. Bezos said, Amazon is ordering 100,000 electric delivery trucks from Rivian, a Michigan company in which Amazon invested $440 million in February.
Mr. Bezos introduced the Climate Pledge alongside Christiana Figueres, who was an architect of the landmark Paris climate agreement while at the United Nations. To limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above preindustrial levels, the world’s total emissions of carbon dioxide must be reduced to net zero by around 2050, climate scientists have said. Mr. Trump withdrew the United States from the accord in 2017.
“Whatever Amazon does does not stay within Amazon,” Ms. Figueres said. “It has a much bigger impact.”
But Mr. Bezos punted on many of the workers’ specific demands. Amazon would still continue to sell its cloud services to the oil and gas industry, he said. And while the company is taking a “hard look” at whether its political donations are going to “active climate deniers,” Mr. Bezos stopped short of saying the company would not give them more money in the future.
“We’re going to work hard for energy companies, and in our view we’re going to work very hard to make sure that as they transition that they have the best tools possible,” he said.
Emily Cunningham, a designer at Amazon who helped organize the walkout, praised Amazon for taking action on climate change. But she said the employees would proceed with their walkout plans on Friday and continue to press on these issues.
“Climate leadership is not compatible with actively helping fossil fuel companies extract oil and gas faster,” she said. “Scientists say that to avoid catastrophic warming, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground.”
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Many other tech companies, like Google, have also made environmental promises. Amazon’s impact on the climate is more complicated than the impact that many of its tech peers have, in part because of its vast operation moving products into and out of its warehouses and to the doorsteps of customers. The data centers at the heart of its cloud computing services also need power to stay cool, and those services help customers in many industries, including energy companies.
The company’s annual carbon footprint is about 44.4 million metric tons — the equivalent of almost 600,000 tanker trucks’ worth of gasoline — according to data it released Thursday for the first time, after what it said was years of complex analysis.
That takes into account the production of Amazon’s own brands, like its Echo devices and AmazonBasics batteries, but apparently not the manufacturing footprint of the other products it sells. Walmart has pushed suppliers to be more accountable for their emissions.
Emissions from a retailer’s supply chains are typically 10 to 11 times the emissions of its own operations, said Bruno Sarda, the president of CDP North America, a nonprofit that pushes for more environmental disclosures and commitments at companies.
He said Amazon’s carbon footprint put the company “in the top 150 or 200 emitters in the world,” alongside major energy companies and heavy-industry firms.
Mr. Zuckerberg came to Washington to meet with lawmakers who have raised numerous concerns about Facebook. It was his first such visit since April 2018, when he testified about privacy and the spread of disinformation on the social network.
“He also had a good, constructive meeting with President Trump at the White House today,” a Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, said in a statement on Thursday. Mr. Trump later wrote on Twitter that he and Mr. Zuckerberg had a “nice meeting” in the Oval Office.
The get-togethers began on Wednesday night, when Mr. Zuckerberg met with Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the powerful Commerce Committee, which is trying to pass consumer privacy legislation this year.
He dined that night at Ris, a restaurant in downtown Washington, with a group of senators convened by Senator Mark Warner, a Virginia Democrat and one of the company’s most outspoken critics.
“The participants had a discussion touching on multiple issues, including the role and responsibility of social media platforms in protecting our democracy, and what steps Congress should take to defend our elections, protect consumer data and encourage competition in the social media space,” said Rachel Cohen, a spokeswoman for Mr. Warner. The group also discussed Libra, Facebook’s controversial cryptocurrency.
Mr. Zuckerberg is scheduled to meet Friday with Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee, and Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island, according to two people familiar with the matter who were not authorized to speak on the record. The antitrust subcommittee led by Mr. Cicilline is investigating Facebook and other tech giants — and recently requested some of Mr. Zuckerberg’s communications.
On Thursday, throngs of reporters and photographers trailed Mr. Zuckerberg as he visited the offices of several lawmakers, including Senator Mike Lee of Utah, the Republican chairman of the Senate’s antitrust subcommittee, and Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas.
Senator Hawley of Missouri said he had told Mr. Zuckerberg that Facebook should sell both Instagram and WhatsApp to address privacy and competition concerns. Facebook recently announced plans to integrate those services more directly with the rest of the company.
“I think it’s safe to say that he was not receptive to those suggestions,” Mr. Hawley said.
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