In a case of unfortunate timing for Hyundai Heavy Industries, US authorities announced Thursday that the South Korean automaker will pay a $47 million fine for illegally importing and selling dirty diesel engines in violation of American environmental rules.
Coming on a day when two of the really hip tech behemoths, Amazon and Google, were boasting of major carbon-busting moves, the news could not but make Hyundai look, at best, stodgy and out of style.
Between 2012 and 2015, the company imported nearly 2,300 diesel-powered heavy construction vehicles with engines that did not meet US emissions standards, the US Justice Department said in a statement.
“Hyundai put profits above the public’s health and the requirements of the law,” Jeffrey Bossert Clark, head of the department’s environment and natural resources division, said in a statement. “We will not tolerate such schemes that skirt the Clean Air Act, designed by Congress to improve air quality.”
The case began with a whistleblower tip submitted in 2015 to the US Environmental Protection Agency, which launched criminal and civil proceedings. A US court earlier imposed a $2 million fine on the company for the clean air violations.
US officials say the Hyundai diesel engines were not certified to meet emissions standards for particulate matter and nitrogen oxide, both of which contribute to disease and premature death.
Meanwhile at Amazon
On the same day, Amazon chief Jeff Bezos pledged to make the US technology and retail giant carbon neutral by 2040 and encourage other firms to do likewise, in a bid to help meet the goals of the Paris climate accord 10 years early.
“We want to use our scope and our scale to lead the way,” Bezos told a news conference in the US capital, aiming to shake off the firm’s reputation as a laggard on environmental issues.
Amazon announced its “Climate Pledge” initiative and said it would be its first signatory, as part of an effort to reduce emissions in line with a 2050 goal for carbon neutrality set by the Paris agreement.
“We’re done being in the middle of the herd on this issue,” Bezos said.
“If a company with as much physical infrastructure as Amazon – which delivers more than 10 billion items a year – can meet the Paris agreement 10 years early, then any company can.”
Bezos said he had spoken with other CEOs of global companies, and noted, “I’m finding a lot of interest in joining the pledge.”
As part of the ramped-up effort, Bezos said Amazon had agreed to purchase 100,000 electric delivery vans from vehicle startup Rivian, to help cut its carbon footprint. Amazon previously announced a $440 million investment in Rivian.
The first vans will hit the road in 2021, with the fleet to be fully operational in 2030. Amazon also pledged to invest $100 million on reforestation efforts in cooperation with the Nature Conservancy.
Amazon said its new “sustainability” initiative would deal with all of its business operations, with reduced carbon in packaging, delivery and its own energy use.
Bezos’s announcement came the day before a global day of demonstrations to demand action on climate change, ahead of a UN summit on zero emissions on September 23.
‘Huge win’ … but ‘not enough’
Amazon faces mounting pressure to address its environmental impact, with more than 1,000 of its workers planning to walk off the job Friday as part of the Global Climate Strike.
Asked about the Amazon employees set to join the strike, Bezos called it “totally understandable.”
“People are passionate about this issue,” he said. “Everybody in this room should be passionate about this issue.”
Amazon staff welcomed the announcement but said they would maintain their protest.
“Climate Pledge is a huge win … & we’re thrilled at what workers have achieved in under a year. But we know it’s not enough,” said a Twitter message from Amazon Employees for Climate Justice.
“The Paris Agreement, by itself, won’t get us to a livable world. Today, we celebrate. Tomorrow, we’ll be in the streets.”
Greenpeace USA senior campaigner Gary Cook said the Amazon news was positive but lacked details on how it would be implemented.
“Amazon is known for speed, but if Jeff Bezos wants Amazon to be a leader on climate, he needs to spell out exactly how it is going to rapidly move the company off of fossil fuels to keep our planet within the 1.5 degree temperature threshold in the Paris Agreement that Amazon has now committed to,” Cook said.
Bezos was joined by Christiana Figueres, the former UN climate chief and founder of the climate activist group Global Optimism, who expressed hope the pledge would spur more action by companies.
“If Amazon can set ambitious goals like this and make significant changes at their scale, we think many more companies should be able to do the same and will accept the challenge,” she said.
Bezos said he expects Amazon to reach 80 percent renewable energy use by 2024, up from around 40 percent today, and 100 percent renewable energy by 2030 on a path to net zero carbon by 2040.
This will involve investments in wind and solar energy projects and initiatives to curb carbon emissions at its facilities including the second headquarters, HQ2, just outside the US capital.
Bezos said that Amazon’s move to speedier shipping, including one-day delivery on many items, would be a net positive in environmental terms even though it was “counterintuitive.”
“The reason is, that once you get to one day and same day, you can’t really do it by air transportation anymore,” he said.
This means keeping warehouses and products closer to the consumer and as a result “you’re actually transporting the products in a very efficient way,” he said.
Google ups ante
Google on Thursday announced a record-high boost to its green electricity purchases, saying the deals will spur construction of millions of solar panels and hundreds of wind turbines.
The US-based internet giant increased its wind and solar energy portfolio by more than 40 percent with deals for 1,600 megawatts of electricity.
“Once all these projects come online, our carbon-free energy portfolio will produce more electricity than places like Washington, DC or entire countries like Lithuania or Uruguay use each year,” Google chief executive Sundar Pichai said in a blog post.
Pichai touted the combined new deals and agreements as the biggest corporate purchase of renewable energy in history.
Google’s worldwide portfolio of wind- and solar-generated electricity agreements total 5,500 megawatts, which was described as the capacity of a million solar rooftops.
In 2017, Google became the first company of its size to offset its entire annual electricity consumption with renewable energy, and repeated the feat the following year, according to Pichai.
“As a result, we became the largest corporate buyer of renewable energy in the world,” he said.
As internet services and computing hosted in the cloud are increasingly woven into users’ lifestyles, demand for power climbs at data centers handling the computing.
Google’s latest green energy deals include investments in Chile, Europe and the US.
Pichai also announced two new grants from its philanthropic arm, Google.org, to support organizations that improve access to clean energy for all businesses.
Google.org will back a $500,000 grant to Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance in the US and a 500,000 euro grant to RE-Source in Europe.
“These are just a few of the ways we’re working to tackle climate change at a global scale,” Pichai said.
“Our goal is to make sure technology can benefit everyone — and the planet we call home.”
– Reporting by AFP –