Jeff Bezos — the founder of Amazon and the world's wealthiest person, according to Forbes — announced on Instagram in November that he will donate $791 million to 16 organizations working to protect the environment.
The donations are the first from the Bezos Earth Fund, which was announced in February and pledges to donate $10 billion to groups and initiatives fighting climate change.
“This $791 million in donations is just the beginning of my $10 billion commitment to fund scientists, activists, NGOs, and others,” Bezos wrote in his Instagram post. “We can all protect Earth’s future by taking bold action now.”
The donations make Bezos the world’s biggest single backer of climate activism, according to Quartz, which reported that he single-handedly boosted the total amount of climate-related philanthropic donations from the US by 11% in just one day.
The first 16 recipients of the Bezos Earth Fund cover nearly every aspect of climate activism and are all environmental groups that predominantly work on developing new climate-friendly policies and researching climate change.
The largest grants of $100 million each will go to top groups based in Washington, DC, including Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), the World Resources Institute (WRI), and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). World Wildlife Fund and the Nature Conservancy, organizations that focus on wilderness preservation and reducing human impact on the environment, will also receive $100 million.
The other 11 organizations were awarded grants between $5 million and $50 million: The Climate and Clean Energy Equity Fund, ClimateWorks Foundation, Dream Corps Green for All, Eden Reforestation Projects, Energy Foundation, the Hive Fund for Climate and Gender Justice, NDN Collective, Rocky Mountain Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, the Solutions Project, and Union of Concerned Scientists.
Bezos’ donation comes after ongoing concerns about Amazon’s environmental policies as the company continues to develop faster shipping. Experts say that fast shipping can result in more trucks on the road that pollute the air and more packaging waste sent to landfills.
Amazon employees have also called for more efforts to fight climate change. In May 2019, 4,200 Amazon employees signed a letter asking the company about its plans to address climate change, and groups such as Amazon Employees for Climate Change have lobbied for more action.
Some climate activists are also raising concerns, according to Quartz, that Bezos Earth Fund donations could "greenwash" Amazon’s own accountability, since the largest organizations that would monitor Amazon’s carbon footprint are now receiving money from the Bezos Earth Fund. (Although Bezos founded Amazon, the Bezos Earth Fund is not otherwise affiliated with the company.)
Bezos' $10 billion commitment is only a small percentage of his overall wealth, which Forbes estimates to be $179 billion, but it is a sizable shift.
In the past, Bezos has been known for his more reserved approach to philanthropy. He is the only one of the five wealthiest people in the US who did not sign the Giving Pledge, a commitment in which the world’s wealthiest promise to give away more than half their wealth. He also received the lowest rating in the new and enhanced Forbes 400 philanthropy score, formed in partnership with Global Citizen, which looks at how much money the 400 wealthiest billionaires in the US have given directly to charities and nonprofits.
With financial inequality reaching new extremes during the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been growing calls for the redistribution of wealth into philanthropic endeavors. But the Bezos Earth Fund is Bezos' biggest charitable pledge to date, and could help signal to other billionaires the importance of using their wealth to tackle the world's most pressing issues.
Global Citizen's Give While You Live campaign, which launched in January at the 2020 World Economic Forum in Davos, encourages the world’s more than 2,000 billionaires to donate 5% of their wealth annually to help end poverty and uplift communities globally. You can learn more about the campaign here.