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Leon Kaye headshot

Amazon Ramps Up Investment in Rooftop Solar

By Leon Kaye

Amazon has not always had the most sterling reputation when it comes to sustainabilitytransparency and environmental performance. The emissions from those packages alone are just the start, say the company’s critics. But there is evidence that the online delivery and cloud computing giant is turning a corner. The company claims it is powering more data centers with renewable energy, and its founder, Jeff Bezos, is a huge advocate of wind power.

Now, Amazon is doubling down on rooftop solar. That should be an easy task for the company, considering how many fulfillment centers it operates in the U.S. alone. The company claims it manages over 70 warehouses that in part house its 90,000 employees. Whether they are harnessing new algorithms, or rushing about a cavernous fulfillment center boxing your order of retinol cream, organic dog treats, cacao nibs and face mud packs, Amazon’s employees consume a lot of electricity.

Investments in solar can help Amazon reduce costs, even though the price of fossil fuels is in a 30-month slump. Solar prices are also falling, and it's an attractive option for companies trying to hedge their energy costs.

To that end, Amazon says it will install 15 photovoltaic systems on various facilities across the U.S. this year. Another 50 installations will appear in the U.S. and atop some overseas locations by 2020.

This year alone, new solar projects in California, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada and New Jersey will generate 41 megawatts of power. Amazon claims that each solar installation will generate 80 percent of the facility’s annual electricity needs on average.

That statistic should not be too surprising. After all, the company’s fulfillment center in the San Joaquin Valley town of Paterson, California, will score a solar installation of almost 760,000 square feet – with plenty of room to spare on the 1.1. million-square-foot complex. Add the company’s wind power investments, and Amazon was the largest corporate purchaser of clean energy in the U.S. last year, with a total of 3.6 million megawatt hours on the books, according to one report.

As of press time, Amazon did not disclose how much it expects to save financially from this renewables investments. But such a pivot by a company as huge as Amazon can have a multiplier effect, especially within the solar industry -- which, according to some analysts, was responsible for creating 1 in 50 new American jobs last year. On that point, the company says it is offering opportunities for employees who are considering a transition into the solar energy field. The company’s career program, which fronts most of the costs for fees, tuition and books for employees who seek a new career in high-demand occupations, includes a solar installation certification as an option.

Amazon’s solar push is part of what the company describes as its “inventive culture” on the sustainability front.

The company insists it is doing its part to decrease excess packaging (and one of its symptoms, “wrap rage”). One such tactic is encouraging customers to fill up empty Amazon boxes with unwanted clothing and household goods; those boxes in turn can be shipped for free to one of the company’s partner NGOs.

Amazon’s downtown Seattle campus is known for energy-efficient buildings and easy to navigate around on bicycle. And in response to those critical of the company’s labor policies, Amazon says it is working on a more ethical supply chain that respects human rights.

Image credit: P2 Photography via Amazon

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye