Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions soared last year, despite the company’s efforts to market itself as a leader in climate action. Carbon dioxide emissions grew by a staggering 18 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the latest sustainability report.
Amazon generated 71.54 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, about as much pollution as 180 gas-fired power plants could pump out annually. This is the second year in a row that Amazon’s climate pollution has increased by double digits since it made a splashing climate pledge and began reporting its emissions publicly in 2019. Compared to 2021, the company’s CO2 pollution has increased by as much as 40 percent.
In 2019, then-CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company plans to achieve net-zero carbon dioxide emissions for its operations by 2040. Unfortunately, that kind of promise allows companies to get away with misleading carbon accounting. They can aim for “net zero” emissions or claim to be “carbon neutral” by purchasing carbon offsets that are supposed to negate the impact of their emissions through supposedly eco-friendly projects. Usually it involves planting trees, protecting forests or promoting clean energy. However, those offsets usually do not result in a real reduction in the CO2 that warms the planet in our atmosphere.
Amazon co-founded an initiative in 2019 called the “Climate Pledge” to recruit other companies to make similar commitments to reduce carbon dioxide and “neutralize” remaining emissions with “credible” offsets. But a meaningful impact on the climate will only come from a company that gets rid of the vast majority of its pollution, if not eliminate all of its emissions.
Amazon isn’t setting a good example of that, despite the company’s best PR efforts. To relieve the growing absolute CO2 emissions, Amazon points to a more flattering figure in its sustainability report. “The focus should not only be on a company’s carbon footprint in terms of absolute carbon emissions, but also on whether it is reducing its carbon intensity,” the report says.
Amazon says it has reduced its “carbon intensity” by a small figure — 1.9 percent — meaning the emissions they produce for every dollar of goods sold fell a little. But this statistic can also be misleading, as those reductions in carbon intensity are easily offset as the company’s operations grow.
That’s exactly what happened at Amazon. “As we work to decarbonise our business, Amazon is growing rapidly. We’ve scaled our business at an unprecedented pace to meet the needs of our customers during the pandemic,” the company says in its sustainability report. In other words, Amazon made a killing during the COVID-19 pandemic when e-commerce skyrocketed — and Amazon’s pollution grew along with profits.
All of this shows why it’s important to look at a company’s entire carbon footprint to see if it’s actually reducing emissions overall. To make matters worse, the numbers Amazon reports are likely an underestimation of the pollution the e-commerce giant is really responsible for, because Amazon – unlike some other companies, including Target – doesn’t measure the emissions created by making many of the products it sells.
And while tracking carbon dioxide emissions is important in addressing the climate crisis that causes devastating heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, storms and other disasters, it doesn’t cover the full spectrum of problems associated with Amazon’s exploding warehouses and other disasters. all those smiley-faced diesel trucks making deliveries. For years, many communities where Amazon builds warehouses have called on 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 causes.