Is the environment Amazon’s Achilles heel or opportunity?
Whether or not you were moved by Greta Thunberg’s riveting speech at the United Nations or startled by the recent emergency declaration signed by 11,000 experts that we need immediate action to avoid a climate catastrophe, it’s undeniable that humanity is creating waste and pollution at unprecedented levels.
Online shopping is a major and accelerating contributor, not only in packaging, but also in the tons of carbon pumped out by the cars, trucks and airplanes that deliver them.
While the environmental impact of online shopping is hardly an Amazon-only issue, they are an undisputed leader and they set the standard others follow.
Regardless of your views on climate change, what is undeniable is that shipping multiple low-value items in different packages to the same address creates more waste. And when you consider the impact of returns, which some estimates put as high as 40 percent for apparel, the environmental impact is considerably compounded.
Delivery speed is also a contributing factor. The faster the delivery, the less opportunity to consolidate items into a single shipment. Free next-day delivery may be highly desirable to shoppers, but it’s bad for the environment.
Amazon is not oblivious to the environmental impact it’s having and seems to be taking steps to minimize it, such as joining the Sustainable Packaging Coalition and reducing packaging size, but some of these efforts are creating new problems. For example, Amazon’s new, lightweight plastic mailer for smaller items enables them to pack more items on every truck, however, the mailers are not recyclable via curbside recycling bins. They aren’t easily recyclable in any event because of the need to first remove the paper mailing label affixed to the outside.
Of course, consumers also need to take some responsibility for their actions since they’re the ones doing the buying. But even the environmentally woke Millennials are big online shoppers, making 54 percent of their purchases online, according to a recent study by research firm Invesp.
So, are consumers just too enamored of convenient, free, next-day shipping offers to care about the environmental impact?
Researchers at MIT’s Sustainable Logistics Initiative wanted to find out so they conducted an experiment to see if consumers would be willing to wait longer for their delivery, first by offering a small financial incentive for every day of delay in shipping – 70% were responsive to the incentive.
Researchers then asked those who weren’t responsive to monetary perks: “What if I told you that for every day you’re willing to wait, I could save 200 trees in equivalent energy of CO2 emissions?” Sixty percent within the group changed their minds when presented with the environmental information.
- Why Online Shopping Is More Eco-Friendly Than Traditional Retail — Or at Least It Was – Yahoo News
- Your online shopping has a startling hidden cost – Fast Company
- Amazon’s New Streamlined Packaging is Not Easily Recyclable – Recycling Council of Alberta
- Amazon under fire for new packaging that cannot be recycled – The Guardian
- Earth Needs Fewer People to Beat the Climate Crisis, Scientists Say – Bloomberg
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Would Amazon benefit from doing more to minimize the environmental impact they profit from? If Amazon included an “eco-friendly” shipping option, informing shoppers of the reduced environmental impact of delayed shipping or combining items, would it make a difference? How likely is it that others would follow Amazon’s lead if it took such a step?