In February 2020, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged $10 billion, nearly a tenth of his worth, to the newly founded Bezos Earth Fund, aimed at tackling climate change.
The move comes when increasing global consciousness is pushing companies to lower and eliminate their carbon footprint. Addressing Amazon’s impact on the environment is no mean feat.
As head of sustainability at Amazon Japan, Rita Monteiro's job is to reevaluate and change the company’s operations and outputs to achieve a goal of carbon neutrality by 2040.
“Big companies have the power to engage and make significant changes in terms of practice that benefit the environment, their customers, and communities,” she says.
A desire to work at a big company
Given that she now works at a company with 613,000 employees—over 6000 in Japan alone—it’s hard to believe that Rita started out working in small startups.
This included working as an HR consultant in Cape Verde, as well as running a diving center and school in South East Asia. At these small companies, she regularly found herself doing a broad range of jobs—everything from recruiting to finance.
“I liked that approach, but I was lacking the proper education and knowledge to increase my scope,” she remembers.
As someone with an interest in starting her own business, she was keen to gain experience at a bigger company, and knew an MBA would be a good stepping stone.
The Lisbon MBA Catolica | Nova in Portugal presented the best option. “The course has a big reputation and it was in my hometown. It was also the best price and quality I could find at the time.”
What she took from her MBA
Rita’s MBA really strengthened her understanding of building strategies. She was keen that any future business of hers would have some sort of social impact, and a course on impact investing on the MBA opened her eyes as to how to incorporate that into a business plan.
“It helped me think about how I can create a business that has impact for good, but is also autonomous in terms of growth and financing,” she adds.
This came largely from the insight that she was able to get from inside the classroom, benefitting from a small class size that gave her good access to her professors.
Her fears of doing an MBA in her home country, meanwhile, did not materialize. “It’s not that I don't love my countrymen, but I wanted to have an intercultural experience, and living abroad, helped me grow and recalibrate my values and perception on what is important.”
Her small class was still very international, with over 50% of students coming from abroad.
She also benefited greatly from an opportunity to study abroad. Not just abroad, but at one of the world’s leading business institutions at MIT Sloan School of Management, which was one of the main draws for her to the program in the first place.
There, she became actively involved in the Venture Cafe, meeting other entrepreneurs, exchanging ideas and advice that she’s kept with her today.
How she got a job at Amazon
Rita recalls when Amazon visited the Lisbon MBA Catolica | Nova campus to present their Pathways Leadership Development program—essentially a fast-track placement for ambitious graduates.
Needless to say, most of her class applied, and Rita feared she wouldn’t have a chance. But numerous interviews later, and Rita was working as an operations manager across several of Amazon’s fulfillment centers in the UK and France.
After two years, the opportunity to move to Japan arose, as a supply chain senior program manager. She’d always jumped at the opportunity to move and work around the world, and now she was doing this while staying at one of the world’s biggest companies.
Rita also found time to start her own business. Mondejavu, due to launch later this year, is a social media platform that encourages deeper interactions with real places.
Users can leave memories in certain geographical locations, and when friends visit them, they’re able to see what they’ve left and interact with the memories.
“It’s intended to take people off the couch and interact in the real world more.”
Implementing Amazon's environmental pledges
Now in her role as head of sustainability in Amazon Japan, Rita’s scope to have a social impact in her career has suddenly increased hugely. It’s now her responsibility to ensure that Japan’s goals align with Amazon’s global goals.
First on the list is Bezos’ pledge to reach Shipment Zero—a commitment to making 50% of Amazon’s shipments carbon neutral by the end of the decade.
“This means all items will be stored in places fed by renewable energy. Packages will be transported in zero emission vehicles, and with no added carbon from packaging.”
Next step is the company's pledge to move entirely to renewable energy sources by 2030, and total carbon neutrality by 2040.
Amazon, one of the biggest net contributors to carbon emissions, has clearly set ambitious targets. Now the company’s strategists and sustainability heads, like Rita, have the exciting challenge to deliver these.