A Giant Climate Leap for a Global Giant: Amazon

20 September 2019 - By Sophie Punte, Executive Director, Smart Freight Centre.


Whenever I speak to any audience about who push the buttons of big multinationals to act on climate change, I tend to name as the top three: customers, governments and investors. It appears that CEOs have a new force to reckon with: their own employees. Not that they weren’t important all along, it just was more about attracting the right talent. No one really thought that they would go out on the streets to strike, not for better pay, but for a better climate policy!

Exactly that is what is happening today. And in my sector: logistics!!! True, the media will call the Global Climate Strike of 20 September 2019 one of big tech companies: Amazon, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. But it was the Amazon staff who started it and their reason was very simple: they want a global giant to make a giant leap to reduce the climate impact of how you and I get our home deliveries. With about a quarter of the global population shopping online, they have a reason to be concerned about e-commerce impacts.

Jeff Bezos couldn’t ignore their plea and he announced a ‘Climate Pledge’ the day before the strike! The trick is to now quickly give this pledge hands and feet. So here are some ideas for Amazon and any other company (or their employees :) willing to listen. It’s simple really: report, reduce and collaborate.

First: transparency is key. Investors and reporting platform CDP had already put the pressure on and Amazon to disclose emissions, and the company will report its emissions for the first time this year. The good news is that we, along with 50 companies, associations and experts through the Global Logistics Emissions Council, already did some preparation: our GLEC Framework is the only globally recognized methodology to calculate emissions across all modes and logistics sites, and built on the widely used GHG Protocol. And companies can make use of six tools and programs that are accredited for being able to provide data that is calculated “the GLEC way.”

A bold target followed yesterday as well: Amazon aims to hit Paris climate goals 10 years early and reach carbon neutral on all deliveries by 2040, and 50% by 2030. They have a name for it already “Amazon Shipment Zero”. They’re in good company: 645 companies have joined the Science-Based Targets Initiative to set similar ambitious targets.

Then we need an action plan to reduce emissions, starting with what can be done today and planning for tomorrow. So here’s what we know so far: 100,000 electric delivery vehicles ordered, 80% renewable energy by 2024 and 100% by 2030, reducing packaging and emissions off-setting. But please don’t forget to involve us, the consumers, and kick our addiction to rush shipping (watch that video it’s so insightful!). Because this is the elephant in the room: a business model built on fast and free delivery to tie customers to you is that transportation of those shoes or toothbrushes to our doorsteps of course isn’t “free” at all. Last week I wrote about how “nudging” consumers to buy greener can work. An MIT study found that 52% of consumers would be willing to wait longer if they can see how much CO2 is cut and how many trees are saved.

Don’t forget to include your hyperscale data centers with 250,000 servers or more – that’s part of logistics too! Did you know that the ICT ecosystems already generates 2% of global CO2 emissions, similar to aviation? The real worry is that the electricity slice rises fastest for data centers which our tech giants above (and thus you and I) rely on. Improve the energy efficiency of those servers as well as lighting and cooling.

When you’re not able to get to zero emissions yourself in full: to decarbonize transport, we must invest off-set dollars within the transport sector!

Finally, we cannot win this war on climate (are we ready to move up a notch from climate crisis?) alone, not even Amazon. Collaborate with peers by joining programs such as SmartWay in the US, Canada and Mexico to sort our road freight, the new Sustainable Air Freight Alliance to tackle air emissions, or EV100 for electric fleets, and the Global Logistics Emissions Council to set global norms for integrating logistics emissions into reporting and other core business processes. Work with your suppliers, in particular road freight operators who could use a helping hand with training and technology investments. Give input into policy, as governments will do a better job if they hear from committed companies what works and what doesn’t. Hey, and keep investors informed of what you’re doing as they seem to welcome the news too: Amazon stocks went up on Thursday…

I applaud all companies that decide to act on climate, no matter what the trigger. It would make me truly happy to see Amazon embark on the journey to Smart Freight. Will Amazon be the first global retailer to tell me the carbon footprint of a “normal” and “green” delivery when I shop online?

Join us!

Join the Global Logistics Emissions Council as a member or friend. Our focus: to implement the GLEC Framework and use results to report, set targets and reduce emissions together.