Amazon, the nation’s largest online retailer, has broken out the environmental purchasing habits of their customers by region. Amazon tallied the annual purchases made regarding books and products related to water conservation, energy savings, garden-to-table, and green parenting. As companies amp up for Earth Day sales, perhaps a bit of an oxymoron, the press releases and blog posts about sustainable actions can be overwhelming. Amazon’s analysis turns typical Earth Day coverage on its head.
Amazon’s Green Blog boasts colorful hot-spot maps typically reserved for biodiversity threats and climate change danger zones in the scientific world. The maps depict “green” consumption hotspots relative to the national average in the pre-determined categories, and the research is all based on consumption patterns for Amazon’s customers. The report considers purchases like environmental books, seeds, and even solar panels. The usual suspects show up, like the Southwest and water conservation, and Florida, Nevada and California keeping up on Energy Savings.
For example, in the Garden-to-Table section, organic cooking, gardening, and composting along with seeds and fertilizer are all included. Residents of Grand Junction, CO purchase a shocking 3 times the national average just behind leader Eureka, CA. These factual statements are followed by a comment that the Midwest lags behind the rest of the nation. Although the Midwest may not purchase much online, the reality is it may not need to, being the “Breadbasket of America.” Where farming, seeds, and years of experience are readily available, perhaps online purchasing of How-To guides isn’t very essential.
Overall, the information released by Amazon, although interesting, lacked depth and analysis of the Hotspot trends and their place in “green consumption.”
3p readers may be familiar with the term LOHAS, or Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability, in which consumers are divided into 5 main categories. They include those who always purchase the most sustainable option, regardless of price, convenience and a variety of other factors and on the other end of the spectrum, those who are opposed to purchasing anything eco-friendly. This type of research, mainly conducted by the Natural Marketing Institute, could instead be used to learn more about online sustainability purchasing, and where Amazon fits within the larger picture. Realistically, many LOHAS consumers that fall on the sustainability side do not shop on mainstream websites like Amazon, but instead use Care2, GAIAM, and other online retail locations that are dedicated to high quality eco-friendly products, and business operations. There are also a growing number of “consumers” that do not wish to be consumers anymore, but instead people again, that work and barter and share with other people to obtain their essentials including knowledge.
Without also adding perspective on how LOHAS individuals shop, where they shop, and how they live, the data from Amazon is simply stand-alone information. The lack of relation to the world outside of Amazon means that the story painted by Amazon is incomplete at best.
This lack of perspective is a curious omission on behalf of Amazon. Although the post finishes by pointing out that although Internet purchasing can promote exotic and luxurious lifestyles, it can also promote and support sustainable ones as well. The jury is still out as to whether this information was genuinely intended to help illuminate “green consumer” online spending habits without any point of perspective, or if it adds to the greenwash noise this time of year.
This is not to say that Amazon is not taking active steps to reduce their environmental footprint. It is simply unclear what the added value of information without specific numbers, more descriptive and transparent categories, and benchmarking as compared to the actual LOHAS consumption sector is at this time, this very Earth Day time.