Costco Petition Delivery Success: CEO responds!

This is a re-publication of a blog from Third Act. Read the original blog here.

Last week on a cold, rainy morning in Issaquah, WA, the day before Costco’s annual virtual shareholder meeting, a dedicated group of Third Actors, Stop the Money Pipeline supporters, Costco members and shareholders, and local activists delivered 40,000 petition signatures to Costco’s new CEO, Mr. Ron Vachris, calling on Costco to cut ties with Citibank if Citi won’t clean up its portfolio and stop funding the expansion of fossil fuels. We delivered the petitions with a “Congrats, Ron!” welcome party to highlight his new role at the helm of the 3rd largest retailer in the US and the power he can leverage as a big client of Citibank’s. And, during the Costco shareholder meeting, he responded! Here is a round-up of our campaign activities, what Mr. Vachris said, and what’s next.

Making the Campaign Visible to Costco

As part of coalition efforts to escalate pressure on Wall Street banks to stop funding dirty fossil fuels, we are working to leverage the power of big bank clients like Costco to influence their banking partners on climate. Third Act and Third Act Working Groups, Stop the Money Pipeline, Stand.earth, Climate Organizing Hub, the Sunrise Project, New York Communities for Change, Hip Hop Caucus, and several other partners together launched the “Costco: Clean Up Your Credit Card” campaign in September 2023 and gathered petition signatures in-person and online throughout the Fall (if you haven’t signed it, you still can!).

Our tone has been consistently friendly and encouraging towards Costco, as our primary request is that Costco push Citibank to stop funding dirty fossil fuels. We have written to Costco’s executive leadership multiple times requesting a meeting and offering to be a resource to assist Costco in addressing the company’s emissions associated with its banking relationships. But we did not receive a substantive reply other than “we plan to honor our contract with Citibank.”

To make sure that Mr. Vachris, Costco leadership, and board members heard and saw the growing chorus of voices calling on Costco to “do the right thing,” as its corporate motto proclaims, we planned a series of activities to make this petition delivery visible.

Check out this round-up of our creative and collective efforts on full display over several days and watch the video below:

  • Delivered to Mr. Vachris’ office at headquarters a card and booklet with the 40,000 signatures, including 18,000 Costco members;
  • The “welcome party” at Costco headquarters on January 17, complete with a sheet cake, a giant card congratulating Ron, party hats, Costco members in red aprons, and giant scissors cutting up a Citibank credit card. We  even had a dancing hotdog!! (Costco is famous for its $1.50 hotdogs);
  • Sang a reworked “Celebration” song by Kool and the Gang with lyrics like “Citibank, Good Bye, Farewell!” (watch this video by Alex Garland);
  • A mobile billboard that circled Costco headquarters, an adjacent warehouse, and the Seattle Costco warehouse on January 18, the day of its virtual shareholder meeting, with graphics calling on Costco to drop dirty Citi (see videophotos);
  • Costco shareholders published a blog expressing their concerns and submitted written questions during the shareholder meeting asking what steps Costco is planning to take to address these concerns regarding its relationship with Citi;
  • Costco members delivered the petition memo and card to at least 10 Costco stores in 6 states (and counting!), and engaged in sincere conversations with Costco store managers. Many store managers shared that they are concerned about climate change, they did not know about Citibank’s role in funding the climate crisis, and agreed to share the petition information with their regional managers and leadership;
  • Published updated analysis by Topo Finance estimating Costco’s carbon footprint from its cash deposits – where banks get to use its money to fund oil, gas, and coal – is equivalent to 85.3% of Costco’s total operational carbon emission (all the energy and gas used for its warehouses, deliveries, capital goods, employee travel and commuting, and more). Costco’s carbon cash footprint is equivalent to 10.1 gas-fired power plants operating for one year; and
  • Garnered publicity via an in-depth article by Keerti Gopal at Inside Climate News, coverage by Progressive Grocer (a trade association publication), a media statement, and Bill McKibben’s Substack “Sheet Cake As Ammunition.”

Costco CEO Responds at the Shareholder Meeting

As a result of all this creative campaigning and visibility, and in response to a group of Costco shareholders asking questions about Costco’s relationship with Citi during the virtual annual shareholder meeting, Costco’s new CEO, Ron Vachris, responded:

“Citi is indeed a key partner for Costco Wholesale, and we are aware of those petitions that were signed. We are going to continue moving forward with our climate action plan, and have been in discussions with Citi about their carbon reduction plans in the future. We’re going to focus on our efforts, and we’ll stay close to Citi and their efforts as well.”

We got the CEO of the 3rd largest retailer in the US to publicly acknowledge our campaign and the issue of Citibank’s climate pollution! While this is definitely not enough, this indicates significant progress for our campaign. We are hearing directly from the new CEO for the first time on this issue, Costco leadership has seen and acknowledged this issue, and we now know that Costco is having “discussions” with Citi about their carbon reductions.

Bill McKibben remarked on the CEO’s response: “Costco has taken a good first step: it has acknowledged the concerns there are with Citi as its credit card issuer. The next step should be robust discussions with Citi over the billions it continues to pour into harmful projects and companies that are contributing to climate change. We eagerly await the outcome of these discussions.”

Stop the Money Pipeline is a core leader of the Costco campaign coalition, and Sarah Lasoff  STMP’s Special Projects Manager expressed her excitement about this progress and what’s next. “I am immensely grateful for and proud of all the organizing that has led to this moment. Our campaign and coalition are making progress and it’s because of people just like you. From sending an email to showing up to Costco’s HQ to petitioning at Costco warehouses and farmers markets, all of our collective pressure resulted in Costco CEO’s public response. While his response indicates progress, it is not enough. We are going to need as many folks involved as possible, especially Costco members, shareholders, employees, and board members, to continue our pressure urging Costco to turn acknowledgement into serious action.”

We look forward to hearing directly from Costco’s leadership about their own efforts as part of Costco’s climate action plan, how they will address Costco’s financed emissions associated with their banking relationships, and how Citi is responding.

Citi Are You Listening? Stop Funding Fossil Fuel Expansion!

Anne Shields, a member of Third Act Washington and a Costco shopper, notes, “We are pleased that new Costco CEO Ron Vachris is prepared to listen to 18,000 of Costco’s own members like me and to discuss with Citi about getting serious on climate. But Costco should know that talk isn’t enough, we want to see action. We want Costco to make it clear that they will take their business to another bank if Citi doesn’t get serious on climate. I am doing this for the future of my sons and I won’t be giving up.”

About a year ago, Chris Goelz, a Third Act supporter in Seattle, had just signed Third Act’s Banking on our Future Pledge and realized his Costco credit card was issued by Citibank. So, he reached out to Costco staff that managed the Citi credit card partnership to express his concerns, which were politely deflected and passed on to Citibank. Chris is also a Costco shareholder and says, “Our call remains the same:  Unless Citi significantly curtails its funding of fossil fuel expansion, Costco must find a new credit card partner.”

Our efforts are not stopping with the petition delivery. No way! Already since last Friday, more than 100 people have submitted Letters to the Editor to their local papers (you can too! Use our online tool), and the Press Herald in Maine has already published one. More than 3,600 people wrote to the top four Costco executives asking them to heed the call of petition signers and reevaluate its relationship with Citibank. And there’s even a new song “Hey, Citi–Hey, Costco” by a Third Actor from Texas, Purly Rae Gates , who is a talented musician and songwriter. Purly Rae sings:

“Hey Costco, quit the Citi
For the country, the planet, for the future we will see.
Be a leader, do the right thing
Help us move the world to clean energy.
Clean up the card!
It’s a choice.
Mother Earth has given warning
It’s time to raise your voice.”

We are raising our collective voices! And we continue to urge Costco to raise its voice and call for Citi to stop funding fossil fuels and accelerate its investments in clean energy and climate solutions.

(Watch for the imminent release of Purly Rae Gates’ digital, 6-song EP “Songs for a Fossil Fuel Funeral” on the usual platforms). 

Read the blog on Third Act’s website.

Check it out
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Tell Costco To Clean Up Its Credit Card

Sponsored by: The Fossil Free Citi Coalition

Call on Costco to drop dirty bank Citi as its credit card partner because of Citi’s role in funding catastrophic climate change.

Did you know?

Costco’s credit cards are issued by Citi – one of the dirtiest banks on the planet. Citi pumps billions into building new oil, gas, and coal projects that are creating toxic air pollution and worsening deadly fires, floods, hurricanes, and extreme heat. Since 2016, Citi has provided more than $332 billion in financing polluting fossil fuel companies, threatening our homes, our jobs and our lives. Costco is a big, popular company — more than 30% of Americans are Costco shoppers (and who doesn’t love the free samples!). Its motto is “do the right thing”, and it’s already made several climate commitments. Costco can continue to solidify its lovable brand by dropping its toxic partnership with Citi.

What Costco must do

Costco, as a huge client of Citi, can contribute to climate solutions by telling Citi if it doesn’t stop funding fossil fuels, then Costco will drop the bank as its credit card issuer. Costco should not let Citi undermine its own climate actions or harm Costco members, workers, or communities who are being devastated by climate impacts.

What you can do

Sign this petition to tell Costco that it needs to drop Citi as its credit card issuer if Citi doesn’t clean up its act.

Costco has a history of listening to its paying members and caring about its public reputation. So, let’s make sure Costco hears from members and non-members alike! By signing this petition, you will be taking a stand for a healthier future for your family, your friends and your community.

Learn more in our blog post here that includes FAQs about Why Costco, What you can do with your Costco-Citi Anywhere Visa Card, and more about this campaign.

 

Add your name to the petition to Costco’s CEO to say: Drop Citi!

Take Action Now!
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Why Costco Should Clean Up Its Citi Credit Card

This is a re-publication of a blog from Third Act. Read the original blog here.

Costco is in a pickle (and we’re not talking about free samples): they’re partnered with Citibank, one of the world’s dirtiest banks. Since 2016, Citi has funneled a staggering $332 billion into new fossil fuel investments. As the third largest retailer in the US, Costco, along with its vast membership base, is a massive client of Citi.

That’s where you come in. Sign this petition to tell Costco to drop Citi as its credit card issuer if Citi doesn’t clean up its act.

Climate-driven catastrophes are wreaking havoc worldwide with devastating consequences for communities. Even Costco’s own stores have had to evacuate due to wildfires and severe flooding. From dangerous heat waves to destructive hurricanes, climate extremes are worsening.

We all deserve a future worth living, free from climate chaos and the pollution caused by dirty fossil fuels. The giant oil, coal, and gas corporations––bankrolled by institutions like Citi––are obstructing our transition to clean, renewable energy. Big box retailers like Costco are uniquely positioned to hold the banks to account.

Costco is a beloved brand. It strives to keep prices low and recently adopted na decent climate policy. Its motto is simple but powerful, “do the right thing.”

Since our founding, Costco has operated under the guiding principle of doing the right thing – for our members, our employees, our suppliers, our communities, and the environment. We understand that when we do the right thing, good things happen.

We want Costco to do the right thing here and demand change from Citi. That’s why we’re launching the Costco: Clean Up Your Credit Card campaign, spearheaded by Third Act, Stop the Money Pipeline, Stand.earth, Climate Organizing Hub, New York Communities for Change, and other dedicated partners.

 

The Climate Problem with Costco’s Banking & Credit Card

We’ve got the receipts on Citi: Citi is the second biggest funder in the world of dirty fossil fuels, providing more than $330 billion in financing to fossil fuel companies and projects since 2016, and is the largest US funder of coal. This funding is making it possible for big oil, gas, and coal companies to keep expanding dirty, polluting projects that are contributing to relentless climate disasters. The Wall Street banks are growing even bigger from corporate cash, retail customers, and credit card profits. From credit card partners to the cash it keeps in the banks, large retailers like Costco need to take the climate impacts of its financial relationships into account and compel its banking partners to stop undermining its own climate progress..

To demonstrate the need for Costco to take into account the climate impacts of its banking, Third Act and Stop the Money Pipeline commissioned analysis of Costco’s “financial carbon footprint” by TOPO, a “think and do” tank known for its work on The Carbon Bankroll report in 2022, which revealed the hidden and substantial climate impacts of corporate finance. TOPO’s analysis estimated that the pollution stemming from Costco’s cash in the banks it uses is more than one-third of Costco’s greenhouse gas pollution from its own operations. TOPO’s analysis is based on an average across US banks and is not Citi-specific, since Costco does not disclose publicly which banks it uses, separate from its credit card partnership.

If Costco considered the emissions generated by its banking as part of its operational carbon footprint, these estimated “cash emissions”—a total of 1.53 million metric tons of planet-heating carbon dioxide—are its biggest single source of carbon pollution, even more than the emissions from all the energy used in Costco’s warehouse stores for lights, heating, refrigeration, and deliveries. This amount is equivalent to more than 340,500 gasoline-powered vehicles driven for one year, or 1.7 billion pounds of coal burned, or 3.8 gas-fired power plants operating for one year (using EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Calculator). That’s a lot of pollution!

 

The Solution: Costco, Push Citi on Climate or Else Drop Citi

Costco is one of Citi’s largest credit card clients. Citi makes a lot of money from its relationship with Costco, and you know what banks care about? Money. That’s why Costco has the power to persuade Citi to stop financing fossil fuel expansion or else to switch to a better credit card bank partner that isn’t wrecking the planet. By pushing Citi on climate or ending its credit card relationship with Citi, Costco can step up, keep its own climate promises, and compel Citi to stop funding fossil fuels.

In keeping with Costco’s existing climate policy and commitments, Costco should include the financed emissions associated with the banks it uses in its own annual reporting on its carbon footprint, just as it will report on the emissions associated with the suppliers of the products it sells. This will reflect Costco’s true carbon footprint. Lastly, Costco should include climate-friendly criteria in its requirements for how it selects its bank service providers, including credit cards.

Costco has the opportunity to be a leader among large retailers by addressing the climate impacts of its banking relationships. There are other credit card company options, and reporting a company’s complete carbon footprint will soon be required by a new law passed in California.

 

What You Can Do

We know that Costco cares about its reputation. Costco listens to its members, and Citi listens to Costco.

You can join us by signing this petition urging Costco to drop Citi as its credit card issuer if Citi doesn’t stop financing fossil fuels.

While Costco members have a special voice, anyone concerned about climate can sign the petition. To win this campaign, we will need lots and lots of people to sign. So, let’s make sure Costco hears from members and non-members alike!

There are other ways you can help too, as described in the FAQs below. Many of us like shopping at Costco—free samples, infamous cakes, bulk buys, $1.50 hot dogs—and we’d like it even more if Costco shopped for a better, cleaner, climate-friendly credit card.

Read the blog on Third Act’s website.

Check it out
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