The Push to Make Amazon a Better Corporate Citizen

Image: Megan Farmer

Last month, online retail giant Amazon announced its  Climate Pledge Fund–a $2 billion that will invest in companies that develop innovative ways to reduce carbon emissions. Shortly after Amazon also announced that it will be renaming the Seattle NHL stadium, Climate Pledge Arena as a nod to its corporate climate commitments (Amazon released more details about this stadium this weekend). Greenpeace slammed the move as a “meaningless and costly PR stunt”  and argued that the behemoth corporation must use the full weight of its operations to help tackle the climate crisis–including severing contracts that use Amazon technology to help oil companies produce more oil.

In addition to carbon emissions, voices are also asking Amazon to do its part to reduce plastic pollution which has become even more rampant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Advocacy group Oceana is launching a campaign urging Amazon to offer its customers plastic-free packaging choices. petition sponsored by Oceana already received over 400,000 signatures.

Why This Matters: Amazon can be a corporate leader in truly circular packaging, it certainly has the market power to make change happen. Especially as online retail continues to surge, we need to design a more sustainable system of shipping people their items. As former Amazon executive and consultant Rachel Johnson Greer said, “Amazon has the technical ability, with its fulfillment centers, to offer plastic-free alternatives to its customers, reduce plastic and help protect the oceans and environment” adding that, “It is really a question of will.”

Problem Packaging: Amazon has started shipping more items in its Amazon-branded plastic bubble mailing envelopes which although technically are recyclable, are not generally collected by trash haulers for recycling. As Amazon states on its site:

NOTE: Plastic bags/wraps typically do not get recycled in curbside bins. They must be returned to participating drop-off locations such as retail stores for recycling.

The issue here is that it creates one more step for consumers to recycle packaging, meaning that the success rate for recycling these packages is quite low. This certainly doesn’t have to be the case, smaller online retailers are finding ways to use sustainable packaging.

Making The Change: Matt Littlejohn, Senior Vice President of Oceana said in a statement that

Jeff Bezos and Amazon say they are obsessed with meeting the needs of their customers. It’s clear from the results of our survey that what Amazon customers want is for the company to do the right thing and offer plastic-free options at checkout” adding, “Amazon can make a difference for its customers and the oceans by doing this: this is a company that, according to recent news reports, shipped several billion packages in 2019, many packed with plastic.”

But there’s reason to believe Amazon can accomplish this, its packaging and materials lab have created lightweight plastic-free packaging, including a new mailer that the company reports have been used 100 million times. The company is known for its innovation in logistics and delivery technology and has made commitments to protect the environment, including a pledge to be zero carbon by 2040. Further, Amazon recently announced it eliminated non-recyclable plastic in packaging across its Fulfilment Centers in India.  



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