Amazon has completely changed the way the world shops. The platform currently has more than 200 million Prime members and ships out 1.6 million packages a day. That's approximately 19 orders per second.
With that much output, things can get tricky: Like many large companies, Amazon has a lot of work to do. But it also fills a gap in the market supply chain and helps consumers get access to items they wouldn't necessarily have the means to acquire otherwise. This is especially important when it comes to essential goods, of which Amazon supplies many.
It's also extremely important to acknowledge that buying sustainable alternatives isn't always a feasible option for everyone. Location, product availability, time, and money are all circumstantial luxuries that not all shoppers are afforded equally. With its vast selection, Amazon makes it possible to access sustainable swaps at varied price points.
At Brightly, we understand that Amazon serves a necessary function that much of the world utilizes. Because of that, we feel as though it's important to teach conscious consumers how to navigate the platform in the most sustainable way possible.
Whether that's supporting sustainable brands on the platform or choosing the shipping option that has the lowest carbon footprint, we can all make small changes to reduce our impact.
Amazon's Steps Toward Sustainability
While Amazon has a lot of work to do on the sustainability front, the company is making active and transparent efforts to do better for the sake of the planet.
The Climate Pledge
As part of The Climate Pledge—which was founded in 2019 alongside Global Optimism—Amazon has a commitment to net-zero carbon by 2040. It also states it's "on a path to powering our operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025 as part of our goal to reach net-zero carbon."
Other companies have also joined The Climate Pledge. Along with this pledge is The Climate Pledge Fund—which was started with $2 billion from Amazon—which "will invest in companies creating products, services, and technologies to protect the planet."
Amazon also started its Climate Pledge Friendly program, which makes it easier for customers to find and shop for sustainable products through its platform.
Amazon says it's "strongly committed to conducting our business in a lawful and ethical manner." That includes "engaging with suppliers who respect human rights, provide safe and inclusive workplaces, and promote a sustainable future."
The company is working on being more transparent with its supply chain and says it believes doing so is "essential to our approach to human rights due diligence and to ensuring worker protections." Amazon's Supply Chain Standards apply to every product sold within its platform, and it says it expects "selling partners to do their own due diligence, ensuring every product is produced in safe, healthy, and inclusive work environments."
Amazon claims it evaluates credible allegations or reports of violations, and if it suspects products don't meet its standards, the selling partner may need to show processes for assessing factory working conditions and/or engage in unannounced audits, among other requirements.
In addition, suppliers that produce Amazon-branded goods are shown on its supply chain map, which is updated on a yearly basis.
Amazon has been working on reducing its packaging waste, as well as making its packaging more recyclable. Since June 2021, it says it has "reduced the weight of outbound packaging by over 36% and eliminated more than 1 million tons of packaging material since 2015—the equivalent of 2 billion shipping boxes."
Amazon is also working on a certification called Compact by Design that promotes more compact packaging to avoid waste. This push for more efficient packaging is an absolutely necessary movement toward less natural resource usage and fewer transportation emissions. Less packaging means more items can be shipped in each bundle, which leads to fewer trips overall.
Amazon's sustainability page states it's building sustainability across all of its operations. "From ensuring that suppliers share our environmental goals, to innovations in packaging that minimize waste, we are taking bold actions to stop the global climate crisis."
Part of that is "Shipment Zero." Amazon has the goal to deliver 50% of its shipments with net-zero carbon by 2030. Products would travel through a fulfillment facility powered by wind or solar energy, come without added Amazon packaging or in carbon-neutral packaging, and be transported in an electric vehicle delivery, or by a delivery associate traveling on foot or a bicycle.
Amazon's sustainability page states it has ordered over 100,000 electric delivery vehicles. The first vehicle hit the road in Los Angeles in February 2021, and since then, they've been deployed in 15 additional U.S. cities. All 100,000 vehicles will be deployed by 2030.
How to Shop Greener on Amazon
If you're shopping through Amazon, here are some things you can do to lessen your environmental impact.
1. Shop Climate-Pledge Friendly
Your best bet at sustainable shopping on Amazon is using the Climate Pledge Friendly directory. This initiative launched by Amazon in 2020 has over 200,000 products that meet the standards of its climate pledge.
This means the product has obtained at least one certification from its confirmed qualifying organizations, like Fairtrade International or Cradle to Cradle Certified. You can even find a compiled list of all of the products that meet those standards here.
2. Choose the Shipping Option that Generates the Least Packaging
If you purchase more than one item, you're given a "no-rush" option. If selected, that means waiting an extra day or two for an item so that they can be shipped together. If you're able to, take advantage of the option. Allowing your items to ship together generates less packaging waste and transportation emissions and puts less stress on workers.
You can also look into Amazon's Frustration-Free Packaging program. These items ship to customers in their own packaging without the need for additional Amazon packaging, resulting in less waste overall. Right now, there are more than 100,000 products that fall under the program.
Additionally, contact Amazon's customer service and let them know you'd like your packaging to be plastic-free whenever possible, and let them hear straight from conscious consumers about how important the option is.
3. Utilize AmazonSmile
AmazonSmile is a program that donates a percentage of your purchases to a charity of your choice. All you have to do is use the AmazonSmile portal and choose which charity you'd like to support.
You'll find options that support wildlife conservation organizations, organizations that are helping to keep our oceans clean, and beyond. Whatever cause speaks to you most, it's likely there. You'll also be able to see how much money you've generated in donations through AmazonSmile.
4. Avoid Impulse Buys
Amazon makes it possible to have anything you could ever dream of on your doorstep with the click of a button. But when it comes to sustainability, one of the best rules to live by is to avoid impulse purchases at all costs.
It's best to sit on a purchase for a bit instead of instantly buying it. Especially because, while Amazon returns are easy, they don't always wind up where you think they do. Instead, many wind up in landfills.
To save the planet—and your wallet—be intentional with your shopping. After leaving something in your cart for a couple days, you might forget about it and realize you didn't need it after all.
5. Buy Used Items
Did you know you can shop secondhand on Amazon? This is especially a great function for things like technology, books, clothing, household items, and beyond.
When looking at a product description, always be on the lookout for the "other sellers on Amazon" section. When clicking into it, you'll be able to see used options of that item, often at a lower price tag than buying it new. If you go this route, you won't be using up any new natural resources to create the product itself—just new packaging and shipping.
Also, check out Amazon Renewed for refurbished items and Amazon Warehouse for pre-owned, damaged, open-box, and returned items. You can learn additional information about these options and more at Amazon Second Chance.
6. Shop Sustainable Brands
Many sustainable brands have started selling their products on Amazon to widen their reach. Whenever possible, opt for a sustainable brand over a non-sustainable brand to reduce your impact. Also, look for products that have ethical and sustainable labels, such as Fair Trade Certified, OEKO-TEX, and FSC Certified.
Amazon, which has its own internal brands, recently launched Amazon Aware—a line of products created with more intentional, eco-friendly, and renewable resources. This includes using organic cotton and recycled materials. Additionally, all products in this line are carbon-neutral.