Amazon's emissions increased dramatically last year despite carbon neutrality goal

The company doubled the size of its fulfillment network last year.

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Despite the company's commitment to decrease its carbon footprint, Amazon's emissions grew by 18 percent last year, according to the annual sustainability report it released today. While online shopping increased during the pandemic’s second year, the company also rapidly expanded its number of warehousing operations — faster than consumer demand could support. For the entirety of 2021, the company’s activities emitted the equivalent of more than 71.54 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (for comparison, that's one and a half times the amount the U.S. government emitted in 2019.)

But this figure is undoubtedly a drastic undercount. While Amazon does include emissions from its warehouses and logistics network, as Reveal reported this year, the company employs a sort of loophole. While other retailers, like Walmart and Target, account for pollution related to any goods they sell, Amazon only counts carbon emissions for Amazon-branded products, which make up around one percent of total sales. Third-party sellers (that is, the entities responsible for the other 99 percent of what's sold through its online marketplace) are left to perform their own carbon emissions accounting independently — regardless of whether those sales are fulfilled through Amazon's warehousing or not. Many of these businesses, however, likely do not meet the minimum threshold for mandatory emissions reporting

Environmental experts have long voiced concerns over the immense climate toll of Amazon’s operations, especially its rush and two-day shipping options. Despite the lack of progress, Amazon’s goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040 was noted in the report.

The company doubled its network of fufillment centers during the pandemic to keep up with the spike in demand, at a rate that outpaced consumer sales. Amazon reported a $3.8 billion net loss in the first quarter of 2022, the bulk of which came from an investment in more warehouses and staff. But the company now appears to be scaling back its building efforts amidst a decline in orders. USA Today reported today that Amazon has paused or delayed the building of 18 warehouses in 12 states.

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