Amazon's carbon footprint grew 19% in 2020 amid pandemic parcel boom

Amazon has revealed that its absolute global carbon emissions rose 19% year-on-year in 2020, largely due to increased demand for online shopping as lockdown restrictions forced physical stores to close.

Amazon's overarching emissions goal is net-zero by 2040

Amazon's overarching emissions goal is net-zero by 2040

According to the e-commerce firm’s latest sustainability report, which has been published today (1 July), Amazon’s absolute global carbon footprint during 2020 was 60 million metric tonnes – almost one-fifth higher than 2019 levels. This means that the business is now emitting more than Ireland annually.

The report states that Amazon had reduced its carbon intensity during 2020, by 16%. The firm measures carbon emissions against each dollar of gross merchandise sales to calculate carbon intensity. However, it was ultimately not able to grow and decarbonise in terms of absolute emissions.

Amazon attributes these trends in emissions to significant and rapid growth of the business, accelerated by Covid-19 lockdown restrictions that saw consumers in many geographies unable to purchase “non-essential” items from brick-and-mortar stores for weeks or months at a time. The business states in the report that it could take “several years” for Amazon’s absolute emissions to fall, as it continues to invest in renewable energy, low-carbon transport and building energy efficiency.

On energy procurement, the report states that 65% of Amazon’s global demand in 2020 was met with renewables. Amazon procures renewables through a mixture of tariffs, onsite arrays and power purchase agreements (PPAs). Across its onsite portfolio and PPA portfolio, it has 232 wind and solar projects online and under development worldwide, collectively representing 10GW of generation capacity. The business has set a 2030 target to reach the 100% mark but, according to the report, this milestone could be achieved by 2025.

Building on this work, Amazon is now working to procure new renewable energy equivalent to the amount consumed by all own-brand devices. Solar and wind farms to offset consumption from Echo devices will be online next year and, in the future, plans for brands including Kindle will be drawn up.

On low-carbon transport, Amazon’s overarching pledge is called ‘Shipment Zero’ and entails making at least 50% of all shipments net-zero carbon by 2030. It is targeting the deployment of 100,000 custom electric delivery vehicles (EVs) this decade and is also investing in hydrogen trucks, sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and hydrogen-electric aviation solutions for long-distance shipments. The report does not state how many EVs Amazon currently operates, merely putting the number as “thousands”, plus “more than 300 e-cargo bikes”. It states, instead, that some 20 million packages were delivered with EVs in Europe and North America in 2020.

Many of Amazon’s forthcoming decarbonisation projects will be supported with proceeds from its inaugural sustainability bond. Launched this May, the bond was priced at $1bn.

The sustainability report states: “As these investments become embedded across our business, our carbon emissions will continue to decouple from our business growth, reflected in our carbon intensity metric. Eventually, we will reach a point where the absolute carbon emissions of our business will drop, even as our business itself grows.”

The news comes shortly after Amazon was accused of destroying millions of unsold items from UK warehouses every year. This accusation came from ITV, which sent journalists to film undercover at the Dunfermline warehouse; to track waste management vehicle movements there and to interview current and former staff.

Sarah George



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