Will Amazon (Finally) Go Green?

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Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce retailer and provider of cloud-computing services, has, for the first time in its history, created a team to move the organization forward on sustainability. From the Guardian:

“Dara O’Rourke, a leading expert on global supply chains, has joined the company’s sustainability team … and join[s] Kara Hurst, the company’s director of worldwide sustainability and social responsibility … Christine Bader, author of ‘The Evolution of a Corporate Idealist’ … and Christina Page, who led energy and sustainability strategy at Yahoo for eight years.”

While the new hires must be welcomed, it also is quite strange to commend anyone for something like this in 2016. Amazon is very, very late to this, as setting up sustainability departments was something forward-thinking companies were doing at the turn of the century.

Even the big-box retail industry, which was slow to hop on the green bandwagon, has made dramatic changes. Kohl’s leads the country with an astounding 104 percent of its energy consumption coming from renewables, with other retailers like Best Buy and Walmart not far behind. Other champions include REI, which donates a large portion of its profits to environmental causes, and Nike, which has been greatly expanding its use of organic cotton.

When compared to its tech brethren, Amazon is even worse. Look at its fellow huge technology companies, and all of them have taken sustainability seriously for years. Google has been a leading user of renewable energy pretty much since it was founded, while Dell pioneered one of the earliest electronic waste recycling programs in partnership with Goodwill. Even Apple — a laggard, which for years refused to open up its supply chain to outside scrutiny — has made massive strides under new CEO Tim Cook, who is far more progressive on ethical and sustainability issues than his predecessor. Amazon is dead last.

This bring up the obvious questions: Is Amazon serious about sustainability, like the companies mentioned above? Or is this mere lip service, like what we see from certain companies like Chevron or BP that use sustainability primarily as a marketing tool to divert attention away from the fact that their businesses are doing far more harm than good?

One worrisome sign is that, thus far, none of the new staff have been available for interviews, and there are, as of yet, no changes in company operations. Considering that one of the major changes that Amazon must implement is transparency, this is not a good sign.

Only time will tell if Amazon is serious about going green, but I believe as long as Jeff Bezos, the CEO who has ignored the company’s long-withstanding labor, environmental and sustainability challenges, remains at the helm, little will change. That is, unless consumers began to choose green retailers over Amazon, and force the company to shift.

Image credit: Álvaro Ibáñez via Wikimedia

Nithin Coca is a freelance journalist who focuses on environmental, social, and economic issues around the world, with specific expertise in Southeast Asia.

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