Costco Becomes Target of Climate Action Petition

Wholesaler’s credit card issuer Citi is said to have a poor climate record
Emily Crowe
Multimedia Editor
Costco is being urged to cut ties with Citi, the bank that acts as its credit card issuer.

Costco Wholesale CEO Ron Vachris will receive a petition signed by 40,000 of its shoppers, shareholders and many climate activists on Jan. 17 urging the retailer to drop Citi as its credit card issuer due to the bank’s problematic climate record. The petition is being delivered to Costco’s Issaquah, Wash., headquarters ahead of its annual meeting of shareholders on Jan. 18.

A data analysis completed by TopoFinance found that Costco's carbon footprint from its cash deposits, which allow banks to use its money to fund oil, gas and coal, is equivalent to 85.3% of Costco's total operational carbon emission. Additionally, the wholesaler’s carbon cash footprint is equivalent to 10.1 gas-fired power plants operating for one year.

The Sunrise Project, a global network of organizations focused on driving the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, reports that Citi is the second largest fossil fuels funder in the world and is a major backer of oil, gas and coal companies across the Amazon and Africa. The bank has provided $332 billion worth of funding for oil, gas and coal since 2016.

[Read more: "How to Reap Renewable Energy’s Benefits With Minimal Risk"]

According to The Sunrise Project, the push to pressure Costco to cut ties with Citi is supported by 12 U.S. organizations including Third Act, Stop the Money Pipeline, Hip Hop Caucus and Stand.Earth. Costco management has reportedly refused to meet with the groups, and stated in an email that the retailer “plans to honor” its contract with Citi.

"Communities are coming together to fight climate change because it is already destroying their homes, livelihoods and their lives,” said Rev. Lennox Yearwood, Jr., president and CEO of Hip Hop Caucus. “Costco's highly-engaged customer base is not only impacted but has a core demographic that is known to care about climate change. Costco can do the right thing and support these communities by saying no to a bank like Citi, which is a major funder of oil, gas and coal, and which forces these industries on regions where there are predominantly people of color." 

Added Bill McKibben co-founder of Third Act, a group for older activists: “Costco is that rarest of things, a brand that people trust and admire, for a bevy of good reasons. But its partnership with Citi endangers that, since as the temperature soars more and more people are making the link to the bank that's one of the biggest fossil fuel funders on earth."

Additional organizations involved in the petition include Climate Defenders, New York Communities for Change, Green America, Oil & Gas Action Network, Friends of the Earth Action and Climate Action California.

It’s been a rocky start to the year for Costco. A letter attributed to its top executives addressing employees’ efforts to unionize at a Costco warehouse in Norfolk, Va., revealed the reaction of most recent CEO Craig Jelinek and new CEO Ron Vachris to the Dec. 20 vote by more than 100 Costco workers to join Teamsters Local 822 in Virginia.

Jelinek and Vachris took an unusual tack in their joint response to the action, which passed by a vote of 111-92. “To be honest, we’re disappointed by the result in Norfolk. We’re not disappointed in our employees; we’re disappointed in ourselves as managers and leaders. The fact that a majority of Norfolk employees feel they wanted or needed a union constitutes a failure on our part,” a letter from the CEOs stated. 

On Jan. 1, Jelinek officially stepped down as CEO, succeeded by Vachris, a 40-year Costco veteran. Jelinek is staying on in an advisory capacity until April and remains on the board of directors.

Issaquah, Wash.-based Costco currently operates more than 870 warehouses, including 600 in the United States and Puerto Rico and 108 in Canada. The company is No. 3 on The PG 100, Progressive Grocer’s 2023 list of the top food and consumables retailers in North America. PG has also named Costco one of its Retailers of the Century.

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