Amazon has committed to going carbon neutral by 2040. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had said earlier last month that the company gets 40% of its energy from renewable sources. This will increase to 80% by 2024 and 100% by 2030. This decision is in the face of mounting pressure from its employees, investors and activists to reduce its emissions in an effort to combat climate change.

Amazon has blatantly refused to disclose its carbon footprint despite years of repeated requests from investors, activists and journalists. This is unlike many big tech firms and shipping companies which have willfully revealed their carbon emission. Amazon is the only company out of the 10 global retailers to refuse to disclose carbon footprint through CDP (Carbon Disclosure Project). The CDP has asked Amazon to come clean about its carbon emissions since 2004.

Although the goal of going carbon neutral by 2040 for Amazon seems insurmountable it is possible with improvements in electric vehicles, aviation bio-fuels, reusable packaging, and renewable energy. Amazon’s use of “net-zero” in its “climate pledge” suggests that the company is keeping its options open to offset its carbon emissions by paying others to reduce or absorb pollution elsewhere. The drawback of paying third parties to reduce pollution elsewhere is that it does not reduce pollution along shipping routes where diesel vans and trucks ply.

Amazon being the conglomerate that it is can tremendously reduce its carbon footprint by addressing emissions in its cloud-computing division, Amazon Web Services.  Amazon Web Services’ carbon emissions have doubled in just three years.

Amazon’s free delivery and same-day delivery can be enticing for a customer, however, the fact that the environmental costs are tactfully hidden from consumers does not help. Ordering packages to be delivered at home saves one from driving to and fro to buy an item, and may remotely seem to reduce carbon footprint. This benefit is lost when expedited shipping reduces the consolidation of packages compared to conventional shipping that takes multiple days. Expedited shipping is often done by planes which produce a lot of CO2, Amazon certainly relies on air shipping if the package is coming from a long distance. Amazon has plans to further invest $1 billion in its own fleet of transport aircraft.

The route that delivery van drivers take to go from home base to warehouses to your home and back to your home base, which generally adds up to more miles than your average grocery run. Although when packaged deliveries are consolidated, the trip makes sense. But, commercial trucks are heavier and pollute more than passenger vehicles. Diesel in spite of being more fuel-efficient than petrol, emits more nitrogen pollution and particulate matter than petrol. Even if Amazon optimized solely for consolidation and fuel efficiency, consumers are shopping so often that it makes sustainable, efficient delivery difficult.

Let’s look at a few ways in which online shopping can be done sustainably –

  1. Don’t buy a lot of stuff. If you don’t need it, don’t buy it.
  2. Don’t opt for the fastest shipping. Free shipping although slower is much more environmentally friendly and might get you discounts on products.
  3. Don’t check out immediately. Consolidate your deliveries by allowing yourself time to add things to your cart as you need them.
  4. If you’re ordering groceries online, consider shopping for the entire week or opting for a meal delivery kit service that includes multiple meals in one shipment.
  5. If you can, use any kind of non-motorized transportation to get to the grocery store or mall. Walk or bike for that last mile, or use public transit.
  6. Try to club trips. Visiting multiple stores in one errand run, or finding a store that’s on your commute route, between work and home.