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.

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CBS News: Climate change protesters block entrance to Citigroup headquarters in Lower Manhattan; 2 dozen arrested

On September 14, 2023, climate protestors blocked access to Citigroup’s headquarters over the bank’s funding of fossil fuels. At least 24 activists were arrested as Citi workers and customers lined up around the building, unable to get inside due to the blockade.

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Chaos at Citibank, as Global Headquarters Shut Down for Over an Hour, 24 Arrested

NEW YORK — On Thursday, September 14th, protesters shut down Citibank’s global headquarters, as over 1000 Citi employees were prevented from entering the building for over an hour. Protesters were met by aggression by some Citibank employees, as bankers unable to enter the building packed the surrounding blocks. 25 people were arrested.

This marks a major escalation at Citibank, which protesters have targeted over the past year with rallies, an overnight occupation, and public pressure from Mets fans and elected officials for the team to drop Citi as their stadium sponsor.

On Wednesday, September 13th, climate activists blocked traffic on 10th avenue across from BlackRock, the largest asset manager in the world and top fossil fuel investor. Five people were arrested.

The past two days culminated in a total of 30 arrests at both institutions, highlighting the growing momentum and urgency of the climate movement.

Protestors are calling on BlackRock and Citibank to pull funds from fossil fuel investments and decarbonize their portfolios. New York Communities for Change, one of the organizations leading these protests, has been targeting both banks for months, drawing attention to the corporations’ outsized involvement in exacerbating the climate catastrophe.

As we choke on wildfire smoke and sweat through September heatwaves, Citibank and BlackRock rake in profits. Ashe world’s biggest financiers of fossil fuels, Citi and BlackRock wield enormous power over the future of our planet. We have exhausted almost every avenue to persuade these billion-dollar companies to  divest from fossil fuels. Time is running out. We refuse to stand by as Citi and BlackRock continue to make billions off of the destruction of our environment and communities,” said Alicé Nascimento, Director of Policy at New York Communities for Change. 

“The Paris Agreement was supposed to be a pivotal moment in the fight against climate change. But seven years later, we’re hurling more carbon into the atmosphere than ever and still building new oil, gas and coal infrastructure that will lock emissions in for decades. One major reason for this is Citibank. Since 2015, Citi has provided $332 billion to the fossil fuel companies that are undermining the fight against the climate crisis and attacking climate action at every turn. $332 billion is more than the total market share value of Chevron. If Citibank stops funding fossil fuels and starts pouring money into renewables, the impacts will be colossal,” said Alec Connon, Stop the Money Pipeline’s coalition co-director.

“Today is Citibank’s time of reckoning. Citi financed methane plants have made the air unbreathable in my community. They have polluted our land and water, and made utilities so expensive that our families have to choose between food and electricity. Citibank executives think they can hide in their plush offices and high rise buildings, but we’ll be meeting them at their doorstep at any chance we can get. They’ve caused irreparable damage to the ecosystem of the Gulf Coast and we’re here to hold them accountable. It’s time for Citi to stop financing fossil fuels so we all can live,” said Justin Fitch from Healthy Gulf. 

Indigenous leaders criticized BlackRock’s role as one of the largest shareholders in the international mining company Rio Tinto, notorious for human rights and environmental abuses.

BlackRock needs to move off fossil fuels, and as they do, they need to invest in real solutions: that means respecting water and Treaty rights, and not toxic mining projects –that’s Green Colonialism, not a just transition,” said Gina Peltier, an organizer with Honor the Earth.

Charlotte Loonsfoot, from Baraga, Michigan, a member of the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community Ojibwe who was part of a community struggle against Rio Tino’s Eagle Mine, said, Rio Tinto lied and manipulated and bullied our townspeople, and paid a lot of businesses off. Companies like BlackRock who are financing Rio Tinto need to back out now.

These protests were part of a larger global movement holding financial institutions accountable for their investments in fossil fuels and expediting the climate crisis. Similar actions are taking place across NYC ahead of the March to End Fossil Fuels on September 17th, emphasizing the growing momentum of climate activism.

Press Contact: Jane Chung, [email protected], 201-686-5901

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Climate protesters call out US banks for funding fossil fuel projects

Climate activists swarmed parts of New York and San Francisco on Monday afternoon, demanding that banks enact actionable climate resolutions on the eve of their annual shareholders meetings – when crucial decisions about fossil fuel funding are made.

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Columbia Spectator: NYC climate activists and students protest against Citibank campus recruitment event

Sunrise Columbia, a chapter of the national climate justice organization Sunrise Movement, spearheaded the event in opposition to Citibank’s long-standing financing of fossil fuel and coal companies and its contribution to environmental harm.

 

 

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