Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions soared last year despite the company’s efforts to market itself as a leader in climate action. Its carbon dioxide emissions are up 18% in 2021 compared to 2020, according to its latest sustainability report.
Amazon generated 71.54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, about as much pollution as 180 gas-fired power plants could operate each year. It’s the second year in a row that Amazon’s climate pollution has increased by double digits since it made a splashy climate pledge and began publicly reporting its emissions in 2019. Comparing this year to 2021, CO2 pollution of the business actually grew by 40%.
In 2019, then-CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company plans to achieve net carbon dioxide emissions for its operations by 2040. Unfortunately, this kind of commitment allows companies to s get away with some misleading carbon accounting. They can aim to achieve “net zero” emissions or claim to be “carbon neutral” by purchasing carbon offsets that are supposed to offset the impact of their emissions through so-called eco-friendly projects. This usually involves planting trees, protecting forests, or promoting clean energy. These offsets, however, usually do not lead to real reductions in the planet-warming CO2 that accumulates in our atmosphere.
Amazon co-founded an initiative called the “Climate Pledge” in 2019 to recruit other companies to make similar pledges to reduce CO2 and “neutralize” residual emissions with “credible” offsets. But meaningful climate impact only comes from a company getting rid of the vast majority of its pollution, or even eliminating all of its emissions.
Amazon doesn’t set a good example of this, despite the company’s best public relations efforts. To alleviate its growing absolute carbon emissions, Amazon points to a more flattering number in its sustainability report. “The focus should not just be on a company’s carbon footprint in terms of absolute carbon emissions, but also on reducing its carbon intensity,” the report says.
Amazon says it has reduced its “carbon intensity” by a small number – 1.9% – meaning the emissions they produce for every dollar of merchandise sold decreased slightly. But this metric can also be misleading because these carbon intensity reductions are easily wiped out as the company’s business grows.
This is exactly what happened at Amazon. “As we strive to decarbonize our business, Amazon is growing rapidly. We have grown our business at an unprecedented rate to help meet the needs of our customers during the pandemic,” the company states in its sustainability report. In other words, Amazon make a murder during the COVID-19 pandemic as e-commerce has exploded – and Amazon’s pollution has increased with it its benefits.
All this shows why it’s important to look at a company’s full carbon footprint to see if it actually reduces overall emissions. To make matters worse, the numbers reported by Amazon are likely an understatement of the amount of pollution the e-commerce giant is truly responsible for because, unlike some other companies, including Target, Amazon does not include shows that come from the manufacture of many of the products it sells.
And if it’s important to track carbon dioxide emissions to deal with the climate crisis that overeating devastating heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms and other disasters – it does not capture the full range of problems associated with Amazon warehouses are springing up like mushrooms and all those smiling diesel trucks making deliveries. For years, many communities where Amazon builds warehouses have called the company to bring more smog, soot and noise to their neighborhoods. This latest report shows that Amazon still has a long way to go to prevent all the pollution it creates.