Is Shopping on Amazon Sustainable?

Amazon pioneers the business world of today, it’s a leading company on most every facet. That is except: sustainability. As it is now, Amazon is not sustainable. It’s quite the opposite.

Can you shop on Amazon.com if you care about the Environment?

Yes!! …in moderation of course.

Like most things, moderation is key. Amazon should not be your only stop but rather an option. And most commercial retail stores will match Amazon’s price. Although, for my truly sustainable people- you’re not buying too much at all… and what you are buying is locally produced or grown. I digress. To learn about how Amazon is doing their part in fixing the problem created by the ‘new norm’ continue reading. To skip to a post about how to shop Amazon sustainably, a quick read, click here.

Amazon.com is committed to becoming Sustainable.

President Trump may have pulled the USA out of the Paris Agreement but that’s not an excuse for Amazon to slack on their moral duty. In fact, they aim to be a Net Zero company a decade sooner. In only 4.5 years from today, they expect to be powered by 100% renewable energy. They’ve been improving!

“But Amazon is the problem.” Well, it was at one point …very recently. Amazon is gigantic! When they do something wrong, it has major ramifications. And when they do something right, it not only improves the environment in a major way, it also raises the bar for all the competitors.

Amazon sets out to solve sustainable issues they created.

Screenshot from direct source Sept. 2020. Amazon commits to being sustainable.

Amazon created the standard for quicker shipping- including overnight deliveries and even same day delivery! Orders are being split into multiple boxes, coming from multiple fulfillment centers and flying all over to meet these insane deadlines. Why? Because we want it, and we want it now! Because most shoppers aren’t changing their settings.

We can point fingers all day but in the end we are both right. Its Amazon’s fault and its our fault. By showing it was possible, Amazon created these expectations; Amazon undid the ecological benefits of shopping online.

How bad is it, really?

For a long time Bezos didn’t disclose Amazon.com’s emissions output. In 2018, he did…

Amazon emitted 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide and in 2019, even more. It increased to 51.17 million metric tons by the end of year. “…the equivalent of 13 coal-burning power plants running for a year.”

CBS News

Now that it’s public, it’s undeniable and impossible to ignore- it’s also not sustainable. So Amazon.com is evolving and changing their goals to not only be the most customer centric company… but to uphold those expectations while decreasing their carbon footprint.
Hold up! We aren’t off the hook just yet. Amazon will improve what they can but our behavior is atrocious. As the shoppers we have to be better, too. 

*The 15% increase in emissions is pre-COVID.

Before 2 day shipping.

If you only just realized the implications of 2 day shipping and ordering everything online, there’s still hope. 

I grew up in a time when the Internet was evolving, before it became handheld and accessible around every corner. While the internet evolved e-commerce became more competitive and evolved, too. And now we can click a button and something from across the country will be at our doorstop in less than 48 hours. 

Growing up my parents had to plan in advance if they were going to order something online for a birthday or event. They didn’t wait until 2 days before the party. Most of the time buying a gift included getting off the couch and in a car to browse a store. Thought and time went into the gifts we gave. We even wrapped and hand delivered them, too!

The convenience of Amazon is disconnecting us. Now we just mindlessly go on our friends wishlist, select an item in our budget, and click the button. The item is then sent directly to the recipient’s address with a generic 255 character message and it’s typically only wrapped in the cardboard shipping box. 

side note: I love the reusable gift wrap Amazon uses. They are these cute/festive coordinating fabric bags. They can be used over and over again!

Is there a sustainable way to shop Amazon?

Shopping on Amazon.com the way an average Prime subscriber does is not sustainable. Most Prime members keep the default selected benefits checked; ship items as they become available and with the quickest shipping method possible.  

Now that you’re aware, here are 5 simple changes to make shopping Amazon sustainable. < click that link for the quick read.

I understand the membership has a fee but honestly, Prime Video by itself is $8.99 so just 1 package a month and a few shows would easily get you the value paid. The package including free* shipping, not 2 day shipping! Technically 2 packages shipped for free under standard shipping would cost $7.99 ea, totaling more than the monthly cost.

Amazon becoming Sustainable

Amazon has the ability to test every business aspect to find the most sustainable and efficient methods. For example they did a multitude of case studies for packaging alone. And even posted reports of testing they did on the recyclable materials they currently use.
They were able cut back excess packaging by 30% from years prior and switched to recyclable packaging- even the tape is made of reinforced sticky kraft paper instead of plastic. 

They lead the way. In 2019 Amazon co-found the Climate Pledge. A commitment to reach the same goals as the Paris Agreement at a faster deadline- a decade sooner! Amazon will improve operations and are changing to become a zero carbon company. The pledge promises transparency on emissions data from all participants. 

The 2019 Climate Pledge

Screenshot from direct source Sept. 2020. Amazon commits to being sustainable.

Amazon is committed to reducing business carbon footprints beyond their online store. This includes their web service, AWS, for businesses. As well as huge donations to reforestation projects. To learn more about Amazon’s commitments and steps they are taking to become sustainable, click here. You can even download the report on the rigorous studies done to figure out the best packaging. 

…and you thought the unnecessary huge box for your small item was a silly mistake. Ha! Just kidding, that really isn’t efficient. 

Smile, you’re donating while you shop!

Or you could be. Amazon even includes a charitable aspect to your shopping addiction. Through the Smile program, consumers can pick an organization to donate a 0.5% of your purchase total to. The only requirement is to shop on their alternative browser: 

smile.amazon.com

You HAVE to shop on this browser for your purchases to count! The entire site is otherwise the same. And from the ‘Your AmazonSmile’ page you can view your impact and the total impact of all Smile shoppers for your selected organization. 

Screenshot from direct source Sept. 2020. 
How to buy on Smile.Amazon. Amazon commits to being sustainable.

Make AmazonSmile Sustainable.

This isn’t necessarily a sustainable change but for my fellow hippies- there are many sustainability organizations to choose from. My selected charity is: Sierra Club Foundation. There are tons of local chapters of Keep America Beautiful, too. There are countless foundations to choose from- local to global! My sister’s chosen organizations is her son’s elementary school. Here is a list I created of participating foundations. It’s organized by 3 groups: Racial Equality, Animal Welfare, and Planet Sustainability.

Remember, always use the smile browser to shop. If you are not shopping on smile.amazon.combookmark it now, then you are not contributing to the organization you have selected as your charity. When you are shopping on amazon.com, even after setting up AmazonSmile, your orders are not contributing to that charity. When done correctly, the order confirmation email will say “Your Smile Amazon order…”

Help Amazon reach it’s goal to be sustainable for the planet.

Be mindful at the checkout stages. Click here, for a quick read- 5 simple changes to shop Amazon sustainably. You can always make the exception when necessary for those last minute, emergency, orders. 

Add things to your shopping cart as you notice them depleting, BEFORE you run out. Put non-essential things that peak your interest on your wishlist to add to necessities. A week before you need the essentials- complete the order!

Amazon Rewards you for No Rush Shipping!

An added incentive to ‘no rush’ shipping is Amazon Rewards. Prime members receive rewards such as free digital downloads in the form movies, music, and books. All members are eligible to receive instant discounts on the current order. And non-Prime members get free shipping by opting for standard speed. I use standard shipping, without Prime, which is supposed to be between 5 to 8 business days and yet I still get most orders in around 2-4 days. If an order does get delayed, it doesn’t make a difference, I’m not in a rush to receive the items and it’s more sustainable for our environment. 

Not many other online stores can have things at your doorstep in 2 days or less, so yes Amazon set that expectation, but we changed our behaviors because of that… and we can change them back just as easily!

Exceptions 

Of course there are many benefits to the less sustainable 2 day shipping speeds. Some circumstances warrant the need for rushed shipping… like if you forgot your best friend’s birthday or Mother’s Day snuck up on you! You might have an emergency need- an unpredictable, last minute, hard or even embarrassing item to find. Remember these are exceptions, not standards. Still, shop on local sites or in local stores. Moderation is the first part of this overall solution. 

Current COVID circumstances 

The pandemic is a MAJOR exception, but the emissions are definitely negatively impacted from it. 2020’s online shopping is going to report a huge carbon footprint. Right now, shopping online is necessary- so do it as sustainably as you can!

With Amazon Pantry you can get essential household items. This is a sustainable way to shop Amazon household necessities. Pantry stocks low cost items; typically it costs more to ship the item individually than the item costs itself. Amazon requires an order minimum of $35 for Prime members to receive free shipping and for orders under $35 (and non-Prime subscribers) it costs $5.99 to ship. If you’re shopping Pantry the easiest way to sort is by first selecting the department ‘Pantry’ on the drop down menu IN the search bar. Pantry items are separated in the cart. There’s also the AmazonFresh WholeFood deliveries and the SNAP program.

Otherwise, shopping on Amazon is not essential. It does make birthdays and holidays easier though with quarantine. There are so many other options. Curbside grocery pick-ups, and grocery deliveries from your local stores. There are also plenty of meal planned subscription boxes for any diet. You can even join a farmers’ co-op or Hungry Harvest.

E-commerce is the future

Online ordering overall is essential. It is the safest way to still get what we need without catching COVID. Personally, I would still want a carefully curated gift… maybe something handmade from etsy. Whats that!? There are other sites!? I kid, but really check other online stores- your local store that closed or is getting less business needs your support. Don’t forget about stores you discovered when traveling.. I have favorite stores all over the world! 

When I shop with a small store or on etsy, I include in notes: *please ship sustainably with recyclable and re-used materials//wrapping*. And even the glass items come undamaged, regardless of the fact that I can see where the previous label was torn off of the box… regardless that an old newspaper filled the empty space instead of bubble wrap. 

The Amazon of Sustainable Online Stores

I am obsessed with EarthHero.com. This is an online marketplace selling ONLY ethically sourced sustainable products. The inventory is vetted through research and proven to hold true to the high standards the B-corp promises. All orders are fulfilled by EarthHero which ships sustainably and charges more for 2 day shipping; the upcharge is used to offset the emissions. EarthHero is what Grove pretends to be. I’ll create a separate post of my favorite finds and link it here shortly.

Amazon.com will be the example to many as it evolves to meet it’s goals set forth under the Climate Pledge. Other companies are already there. Wherever you choose to shop, do it in the most sustainable way you can! It’s the least we can do for the World and the future generations of our own family.

One Last Thing, I almost forgot!

The Amazon warehouse allows us to create a circular economy. You can shop the warehouse for great deals! $100 off furniture (it’s actually a % so depends on original tag) all because of a backboard cosmetic damage. Or it is missing hardware that you can find at Lowes. And with the Second Chance program you can sell your own items to Amazon, like cell phones and laptops… and of course books because duh! Amazon is even doing textbook rentals again!

Kaitlin

A traveler who has allowed the World to show her that extreme posing beliefs are necessary to find the sweet spot that is revolutionary. Because life is too complex; it’s a balance of black and white; we need to blend the two so we can live in the grey space of an Open Mind. Currently finding a balance in exploring the World and being sustainable everyday.

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