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Is E-Commerce Better for the Planet? Amazon Says Yes
As the world emerges from the throws of the pandemic, retailers are embracing the need for a greener future. But even if online retailers are embracing greener materials, deliveries and resources, is it really better for the planet?
Online shopping, as reflected in a report from Amazon, is far more earth-friendly than shopping in-store. How is this calculated? ‘Sustainability Scientists’ at Amazon came to this conclusion using the online grocery market.
“Their detailed analysis found that shopping online consistently generates less carbon than driving to a store, since a single delivery van trip can take approximately 100 roundtrip car journeys off the road on average,” the report said.
“Our scientists developed a model to compare the carbon intensity of ordering Whole Foods Market groceries online versus driving to the nearest Whole Foods Market store. The study found that, averaged across all basket sizes, online grocery deliveries generate 43 percent lower carbon emissions per item compared to shopping in stores, and smaller basket sizes generate even greater carbon savings.”
So, how did Amazon do in 2020? A report from Amazon has indicated that its carbon emissions have increased by 19 percent. This is a result of the pandemic and an increase in business operations. However, its overall carbon emissions have decreased by 16 percent from 122.8 grams of CO2e per dollar of GMS in 2019 to 102.7 grams in 2020.
The retailer is staying true to its goal by investing further into renewable energy for its DCs, reducing the packaging for its parcels and increasing efficiencies in its last-mile deliveries. Amazon explained that it tracks the emissions resulting from shipping products to and from warehouses, as well as to customer’s houses and other pick-up points.
Even as its overall emissions are down for the year, the retailer has a long way to go to reach its goal of zero carbon emissions by 2040. “We will continue to rapidly scale our investments in carbon reduction solutions that have large, long-term impacts that will move us forward on our path to net-zero carbon by 2040,” the retailer said.
However impressive this is, it should also be mentioned that this goes beyond just presenting the ‘image’ of sustainability. Otherwise, this can come across as using sustainable practices as a marketing spin, also known as ‘greenwashing’.
As an example, Jeff Bezos, the Founder and Executive Chairman of Amazon, is impacting the planet heavily with his own escapades into space. As explained by Forbes, “space travel is one of the most carbon-intensive of human endeavours”. An economy flight from Melbourne to Singapore is roughly 6,000 km – this accounts for roughly 11 percent of a person’s annual carbon emissions. Space travel, on the other hand, generates about the annual carbon footprint of roughly 278 people.
Of course, not all retailers have the recourses, let alone the budget, that Amazon has to make such a huge impact on their footprint. But it’s important to know that even the smallest changes can help reduce the level of annual emissions.
Mecca is a great example, by giving consumers the option of choosing the traditional Mecca packaging or sustainable packaging for their online orders. Flora & Fauna, Top Sustainable Retailer of the Year at the 2021 All Star Bash, receiving one of the highest B Corp Certifications in Australia – a stunning 91 points, up from 87 in 2017.
THE ICONIC’s parent company, Global Fashion Group, is committing to creating 100 percent energy-efficient FCs in Australia, NZ, Latin America, the CIS and Southeast Asia. “We have reached an inflection point as a global community whereby the impetus for the transition to a low carbon economy is undeniable. We recognise there is much work ahead of us to reduce our footprint and therefore formalising our carbon mitigation strategy is an important step to support our transition. While the purchase of offsets and renewable energy certificates will not distract us from true reduction efforts, they mark an important milestone in GFG’s journey,” said Jaana Quaintance-James, the Chief Sustainability Officer at GFG.
As retailers understand the impact that their own businesses have on the planet and made the effort to reduce their footprint – whether this is by replacing energy-sucking lights in their warehouses, reducing wasteful packaging and offsetting emissions – e-commerce could be well-placed to be more sustainable.