While Amazon may be waving the “Climate Pledge” flag, a closer look reveals that not everything is as green as it appears.
“We are committed to and invested in sustainability because it’s a win all around—it’s good for the planet, for business, for our customers, and for our communities.”
While Amazon has made notable strides in its sustainability journey, including a goal of achieving 100% renewable energy for its operations by 2025, the company’s carbon emissions are still far from where they need to be.
Despite modest reductions in carbon emissions this year, they remain about 40% higher than in 2019 when Amazon first disclosed its carbon footprint. Nonetheless, the company’s commitment to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, a decade before the Paris Climate Agreement, is admirable.
However, there is still much work for Amazon to become truly environmentally friendly.
Besides its emissions, Amazon claims to be a leader in water stewardship. Recently, the e-commerce giant collaborated with Water.org to provide safe water and sanitation for low-income households in Bandung, Indonesia. This is commendable, especially as a UNICEF study in 2022 revealed that almost 70% of 20,000 households surveyed had their water sources contaminated by fecal waste. The result has been devastating and is the leading cause of death in children under five.
Such efforts align with Amazon’s goal to become “Water Positive by 2030“.
“To do this, we’re increasing the use of sustainable water sources, improving water use efficiency across our operations, reusing water as much as possible, and supporting water replenishment projects for communities and the environment around the world.” Amazon’s statement on water stewardship.
Although Amazon has made progress, it is important to note that it maintains close relationships with palm oil producers. Even though some of Amazon’s products come from a certified supply chain, most of its palm oil is untraceable.
Human Rights and Labor Practices
As frequent social media users, most have probably seen reports on Amazon’s labour practices.
In 2022, the company reportedly spent a staggering $14 million on anti-union consultants to prevent collective bargaining among its workforce. These actions have not gone unnoticed, with workers staging protests and strikes over pay-related issues and working conditions in various locations.
A recent example is the 2023 strikes in Coventry, UK, where drivers sued Amazon seeking employment rights such as minimum wage and holiday pay. Despite Amazon’s efforts to shut it down, the judge presiding over the case did not find favor in the company’s actions.
Compared to its competitors, Amazon’s reputation has suffered a notable decline. The UK’s Groceries Code Adjudicator (GCA) survey ranks the company at the lowest position. This is because Amazon has received almost four times more accusations of code violations than the next company on the list.
While Amazon’s next-day delivery is a popular feature, the workers bear the brunt of the company and consumer demands.
High-order volumes, warehouse optimization, and streamlining help Amazon save costs but also place immense pressure on the logistics team. For instance, a survey of Long Island Amazon warehouse workers revealed that 42% experienced physical pain, psychological pressures, and disrupted sleep schedules.
Additionally, at least 6 deaths have been linked to the company. However, the accuracy of this figure is debatable, given how Amazon outsources its delivery apparatus to a global network of companies.
Jacob, who joined Amazon two years ago, says, “Amazon constantly reminds us they put profits over their workers. I ended up having a normal 200-plus stop day on Easter Sunday. Zero mercy shown.”
Supply Chain Sustainability
In recent years, Amazon has made sustainability a key strategy by implementing sustainable sourcing practices.
The company claims to recognize that the raw materials used in its products can have far-reaching environmental implications. As a result, Amazon has been actively seeking out suppliers and partners that align with its sustainability goals.
For instance, by the end of 2022, 100% of cotton used in Amazon Private Brands apparel products was sourced from sustainable sources. This shift towards sustainable sourcing reduces environmental harm and fosters a positive image for the company among environmentally conscious consumers.
Furthermore, Amazon’s emphasis on reducing waste and increasing recycling extends into its supply chain.
Since 2015, Amazon has avoided using 2 million tons of packaging materials and reduced per-shipment packaging weight by 41% on average. This not only conserves resources but also decreases transportation-related emissions.
To top it off, the company has just introduced PackOpt. This web-based tool reduces cardboard waste and saves 60,000 tons annually. PackOpt identifies the most efficient, sustainable, and economical packaging options using shipment data and box dimensions.
If Amazon’s claims are accurate, this move towards a circular business model could help the company achieve its net zero by 2040 objective.
A Billion Dollar Sustainable Supply Chain?
However, challenges remain in making Amazon’s supply chain truly sustainable.
While Amazon firmly supports the idea of advocating for sourcing from responsible vendors, there has been no explicit explanation of the company’s policies to ensure accountability. This is particularly concerning, as it means products are at risk of being sourced from places where human rights abuses occur.
If we look closer to home, there is the issue of returns. Amazon has tended to have a robust, yet also easily manipulated returns system. For example, during major holiday seasons, the e-commerce site regularly gets reruns amounting to nearly £6 billion of landfill waste and 16 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually.
Amazon’s lack of strict return policies also forces third-party sellers to discard any returned items.
Currently, Amazon provides sellers with four return options, each with a corresponding fee. These options are Return to Seller, Disposal, Liquidation, and Fulfillment by Amazon Grade and Resell. Whilst seeming good on the surface, these options mean Amazon isn’t all that accountable.
So, How Green is Amazon?
It’s no secret that Amazon has faced criticism for some of its business practices in the past.
However, the company is trying to turn things around and position itself as a force for positive change. In fact, just this week, Amazon announced its plans to invest in direct air capture (DAC) technology, committing to purchasing 250,000 tons of removal credits over the next decade.
While this news certainly encourages consumers who want to support environmentally responsible companies, digging deeper reveals a different story. Despite Amazon’s efforts to improve its sustainability practices, it continues to swim in accusations of “greenwashing”.
Ultimately, the responsibility for creating a more sustainable world falls on all of us.
This means taking a critical look at our consumption habits, especially when we’re bombarded with promotions and sales.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — Cover Photo: Amazon Packages Cover Photo Credit: ANIRUDH