Jeff Bezos is one of the most influential businesspeople in the world. His vision has helped build Amazon.com (AMZN 0.23%) from a fledgling online bookseller to the e-commerce and cloud computing giant it is today. Bezos owes his fortune to his commitment to Amazon stock, but he's also demonstrated his desire to take action outside of his role as Amazon CEO.
On Monday, Bezos made a huge commitment of his financial resources, dedicating $10 billion of his fortune toward the creation of what he's calling the Bezos Earth Fund. With the initiative, Bezos has a simple goal: to save the planet.
Fighting climate change
Bezos explained in his Instagram post launching the fund that his aim was to protect Earth from the threat of climate change. The Amazon leader admitted that it'll take a coordinated effort from multiple corners in order to succeed, requiring the cooperation of businesses both large and small, national governments, nongovernmental organizations with global scope, and everyday individuals to achieve its ends. However, Bezos said he wants to play his role in helping to get the effort moving more effectively.
Toward that goal, Bezos' $10 billion will provide the funding for grants aimed at addressing specific elements of the climate change threat. The billionaire is happy to provide money for a wide range of uses. Scientists who can do research to try to solve particular climate change problems would be natural candidates for funding, as would global organizations seeking ways to preserve the current global ecosystem. Bezos would even fund activists looking for ways to incite local and national governments to take more aggressive action to fight climate change.
Philanthropy, Bezos style
This isn't the first time that Bezos has put his money to work, although its scope is much larger than previous efforts. Past philanthropy has centered on families and communities in need, providing support to community leaders providing food and shelter for young families and building a network of preschools to serve children in communities where opportunities are currently lacking. An initial gift of $2 billion created those funds, showing the greater priority Bezos is putting on climate change.
Yet the move to support climate change efforts doesn't entirely sit well with everyone. Amazon's track record in joining the movement toward corporate sustainability has been slow, with the e-commerce giant have fought against commitments to use 100% renewable energy across its infrastructure long after many of its tech peers had already achieved those goals. In particular, the need to transport all the packages that Amazon.com customers order presents a massive challenge for the company. Even as Amazon has worked toward building out its own delivery networks, it'll still be difficult for Bezos to convince climate activists that he's entirely committed to solving the problem as long as the company he founded draws criticism. Even Amazon's recent plans to reach net-zero carbon emission levels by 2040 are too slow for some critics -- despite their being a decade faster than what the Paris climate change accords five years ago had envisioned more broadly.
Watch what Bezos does
Bezos Earth Fund intends to start making grants this summer, and those who follow climate change work will want to see just how quickly the Amazon leader puts his money to work. Just because Bezos has made a $10 billion commitment doesn't mean that he'll spend anywhere close to that amount of money in its initial grant-making process. Moreover, only once we see what kinds of projects actually get funding will it be possible to assess whether Bezos' efforts are likely to do real good -- and in what timeframe.