Amazon has changed the way people shop and created a new “buying culture”, making it easier and cheaper for people to buy goods online. This leads to people consuming more. Overall, there is more demand created by the availability and the ease of purchasing products through online platforms. This doesn’t come without environmental consequences.
What are the environmental problems that come with the processes of this e-commerce giant?
One of the problems is the “one day” delivery that Amazon promises to its prime members, with no additional costs. This promise has a huge environmental impact because it not only encourages consumers to make multiple small purchases but also it makes it harder to “consolidate” deliveries. In fact, Amazon outsources its delivery services to different providers like UPS or FedEx and several independent contracted drivers. Those independent drivers who operate small vans can’t carry a big number of packages; this one-day delivery implies that drivers make several returns to the warehouse a day.
Another problem is the emission of carbon through Amazon’s deliveries. In 2017, they alone emitted about 19 million metric tons of carbon. With sales that are going up, this number is estimated to be way higher in the year 2021.
The heavy-duty trucks are responsible for one quarter of the carbon footprint in the transportation category, and the plane deliveries are responsible for the other three quarters.
Adding to that, Amazon generates a huge amount of plastic with the packaging of its goods. Most of this plastic ends up in landfill and endangers ecosystems and marine life. The size of the company’s plastic footprint will continue to grow as the sales go up.
A problem that is often forgotten about is Amazon’s web services. They are the biggest cloud-computing provider in the US and they have over a million consumers ranging from small businesses to Unilever and Netflix. For those services, a lot of data centers across the world are needed and according to a Greenpeace report, those centers consume about as much power as a small town.
With the growing concerns of its customers and the shifting mindsets of the population, Amazon is increasing its communication about their sustainable goals and practices. In their annual sustainability report of 2020, Amazon sets goals like achieving a net-zero emission across their operations by 2040, powering their operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 and investing in electric vehicles for deliveries. But all those goals are far from being concrete yet and the problems are still maintained. For example, between 2019 and 2020, amazon witnessed a rise in demand due to COVID-19 resulting in carbon emissions rising by 19% compared to the previous year.
Overall, e-commerce is an industry that is very polluting because of the demand it’s creating, the fast deliveries, the packaging, the web services, and many other aspects. Amazon, due to its reputation and its size, has a big influence on the e-commerce sector. Even if Amazon is making a lot of promises in regard to reducing their environmental impacts in the next few years, they still have a long way to go in order to make a real and drastic change in the way they do things. And if they decide to make meaningful steps towards sustainability, then many other smaller retailers would follow.