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Amazon’s carbon emissions surge during 2019

Amazon’s carbon footprint continues to grow, jumping 15% in one year, with the company maintaining it will take some time for its green investments to yield measurable results

Amazon’s carbon footprint surged by 15% in 2019 alongside a 22% net sales increase, despite its pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040.

The e-commerce giant disclosed on 23 June 2020 that it had emitted 51.17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, which constitutes a 15% year-on-year (YoY) increase since 2018 when it emitted 44.4 million metric tons.

Although the overall carbon footprint has grown, Amazon added it’s ‘carbon intensity’ – the amount of carbon emitted for every dollar spent – dropped 5% in the same period.

“Like many companies in high-growth mode, we look at the absolute tons of carbon in our footprint, but also at how we are improving our carbon intensity. Our first year-over-year comparison shows progress as we continue to make investments in innovation, technologies, and products that will decarbonise our operations over future years,” it said.

“These investments include renewable energy projects like our new solar farm in Virginia, and our order of 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, which will be on the road delivering packages to customers starting in 2021.

“It will take several years for the carbon-reduction benefits of these investments to be fully reflected in our carbon footprint. Over time, both our carbon intensity and our absolute carbon footprint will drop as we continue to make progress toward net zero carbon.”

Amazon also announced a $2bn Climate Pledge Fund alongside the carbon disclosure which it claims “will support the development of sustainable technologies and services that will enable Amazon and other companies” to reach net zero by 2040.

In February 2020, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos pledged to invest $10bn of his personal wealth into initiatives to combat climate change through the Bezos Earth Fund.

Allegations of greenwashing

A group of Amazon employees campaigning under the banner of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice (AECJ) responded to the firm’s uptick in carbon emissions by accusing the company of ‘greenwashing’.

“Amazon greenwashes its emissions growth by saying the year-over-year increase is less than its sales growth. But dollars are irrelevant to the health and sustainability of the planet. We need all corporations/ governments/markets to begin carbon footprint reduction now,” the group tweeted.

“‘Carbon intensity’ allows Amazon to prop its planet-harming profits up alongside its carbon emissions and claim the company is making relative progress. But the data is clear: Amazon is polluting the planet more than ever before while sales and the stock price skyrocket.

“While we are glad that Amazon has released its carbon footprint so we can start holding Amazon accountable, the results are alarming. Amazon is prioritising growth and sales over reducing carbon emissions. It still has not proven that its business model can be sustainable.”

In response to allegations of greenwashing, an Amazon spokesperson told Computer Weekly “we are committed to becoming net carbon neutral by 2040, ten years ahead of the Paris Agreement, and we’re working hard to achieve that.”

They added: “We are continuing to take significant action across Amazon to become more sustainable in all of our operations and have just launched The Climate Pledge Fund with an initial $2bn in funding to help support visionary companies whose product and service solutions will facilitate the transition to a zero carbon economy.”

In April 2019, more than 8,700 employees signed an open letter about the company’s climate failures, and in September the AECJ organised almost 3,000 corporate workers to walk out as part of the Global Climate Strike.

Since the group was formed in December 2018, Amazon has announced a slew of climate plans, including its Climate Pledge, Shipment Zero and the Bezos Earth Fund.

In April 2020, two of the AECJ’s leaders, user experience designers Maren Costa and Emily Cunningham, were fired after publicly denouncing Amazon’s treatment of warehouse workers, who have been striking across Europe and the US in protest at “unsafe working conditions” and “corporate inaction”.

An Amazon spokesperson confirmed to The Guardian at the time that the two staff members had been dismissed for “repeatedly violating internal policies”, which prohibit employees from commenting publicly on the company’s business without corporate justification and approval from executives.

According to Ciaran Bollard, CEO of digital commerce platform Kooomo, one way e-commerce firms can reduce their carbon footprint is to create clear product and shipping information that keeps customers informed of the enterprises ethical responsibilities.

“You should ensure you have a varied offering in shipping options, emphasise the rewards for longer wait times (i.e. that they are cheaper) and it’s also beneficial to have your reasoning behind this displayed on the checkout as customers respect environmental responsibility,” he said.

“Consumers prefer to spend their money on brands that display pro-social messages, apply sustainable manufacturing practices and exercise ethical business standards. You should therefore be sure to work your caretaking into your brand ethos [and] inform your consumers of what can be recycled from their delivery and what parts of the delivery are made from recycled products.”

In its full version of the sustainability report, Amazon said it has already reduced the weight of outbound packaging by 33% and eliminated more than 880,000 tons of packaging material since 2015.

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