Amazon’s latest environmental report shows innovation—not corporate promises—is the path to net-zero emissions

August 2, 2022, 6:09 PM UTC
An Amazon Prime Air airplane
An Amazon Prime Air Boeing 737 aircraft.
Nicolas Economou—NurPhoto/Getty Images

After using 96 pages to promote their company’s numerous environment-saving efforts, Amazon officials saved the most important information for the final section of the company’s latest sustainability report.

In its journey to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, Amazon’s total carbon footprint grew—yes, grew—by 18% last year, from 60.64 million metric tons to 71.54 million metric tons. 

And despite all manner of mitigation attempts—renewable energy investments, sustainable construction, electric vehicle purchases, improved packaging—the tech conglomerate’s emissions relative to gross merchandise sales only declined 1.9% in 2021.

Somebody get Greta Thunberg on the line.

The third annual report from Amazon, which cofounded a net-zero climate pledge drive in 2019, offered the latest reminder to take Big Tech environmental pledges with a boulder of salt. Until green technology evolves to the point that gas-guzzling cargo flights and energy-sapping factories run on renewables—a far-off proposition with no clear target date in sight—Amazon and its industry rivals will continue to disappoint ardent environmentalists.

Amazon’s results in 2021 offer one of the clearest examples yet of reality falling far, far short of promises, with no end in sight.

In a year marked by freewheeling spending by consumers, corporations, and investors, Amazon’s business took off. The company’s total revenue hit $469.8 billion in 2021, up 22% from the prior year, as e-commerce sales soared and demand for its cloud-computing business boomed.

Amazon’s carbon emissions increased at a similar clip despite the company’s numerous climate-centric initiatives. Its fossil fuel use for direct operations, such as air and ground shipping, rose 27% from the prior year. Its construction and equipment-related emissions spiked 46%. Corporate activities, including the production of Amazon-branded products, produced 14% more carbon emissions.

Amazon certainly isn’t alone in struggling to curb its carbon footprint—most notably, Microsoft’s emissions jumped 21.5% in 2020–21—but it’s made environmental altruism central to the company’s brand. The e-commerce giant launched the Climate Pledge three years ago, ultimately attracting more than 300 companies willing to commit to net-zero emissions by 2040. 

In reality, though, Big Tech’s environmental goals remain largely at the mercy of innovation. 

Amazon can spend nearly 100 pages touting its South African solar farms and fleets of bike-riding cargo carriers, but those carbon savings are a pittance. True progress will arrive when two-day shipping and data center operations approach carbon-neutral status, developments that still require many iterations of technological advancement.

Amazon officials acknowledged as much in their sustainability report, if only in vague terms.

“The challenges we collectively face on the path to net-zero carbon are considerable,” company officials wrote. “Many new technologies are showing promise in their ability to reduce carbon emissions, but may still require significant development. We need to both invent new solutions and scale and drive down the costs of known solutions.”

Amazon certainly deserves some credit for its environmental efforts. The company doesn’t report its annual emissions-related spending, but it’s fair to assume the number reaches hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. Amazon has ordered more than 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, helping to prop up an important industry. It has also set aside $2 billion for venture capital investments in companies developing sustainable technologies and services. 

And yet, those investments offer minimal evidence to date that Amazon will reverse its carbon course anytime in the near future. Unless it plans on spending ungodly sums on future carbon credits—a prospect that shareholders will surely shun—Amazon had better hope that modern science makes some major breakthroughs in the next 20 years. 

Otherwise, company officials might need to bury their emissions data even deeper.

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Jacob Carpenter


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A scrap of hope. Pinterest shares rallied 13% in midday trading Tuesday, as investors signaled their optimism in the digital scrapbooking site despite an underwhelming second quarter, MarketWatch reported. The surge came as activist shareholder Elliott Management gave a vote of confidence to new Pinterest CEO Bill Ready, who took over from cofounder Ben Silbermann in late June. Pinterest also reported virtually no change in active users from the prior quarter, ending a string of user losses, though earnings fell short of analyst expectations.

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From the article

Several ultrafast players had learned the business outside the U.S. Gorillas, for instance, perfected its model on the streets of Berlin, while Buyk’s founders had run an ultrafast-delivery service called Samokat in Russia.

But analysts told Insider this may have led to blind spots when it came to the American consumer.

Shoppers in Europe tend to buy fresh groceries every few days. In the U.S., people with larger homes often buy goods in quantities that could last a week or more, Hawkins said. And persistent inflation has made bulk buying even more attractive.


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