Amazon’s greenhouse gas emissions rose sharply last year despite the company’s efforts to sell itself as a leader in climate action. Its carbon dioxide emissions increased by 18 percent in 2021 compared to 2020, according to the latest sustainability report.
The Amazon generated 71.54 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent last year, about as much pollution as 180 gas-fired power plants can pump out annually. This is the second year in a row that Amazon’s climate pollution has grown by double digits since they made a splashy climate pledge and began reporting their emissions publicly in 201[ads1]9. Compared to that year with 2021, the company’s CO2 pollution has actually grown by a whopping 40 percent.
Back in 2019, then-CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the company planned to reach net zero carbon dioxide emissions for its operations by 2040. Unfortunately, those kinds of promises allow companies to get away with somewhat misleading carbon accounting. They may aim to achieve “net zero” emissions or claim to be “carbon neutral” by purchasing carbon offsets to offset the impact of their emissions through supposedly environmentally friendly projects. It usually involves planting trees, protecting forests or promoting clean energy. However, these shifts do not usually result in reductions in the planet-warming CO2 that builds up in our atmosphere.
Amazon co-founded an initiative called the “Climate Pledge” in 2019 to recruit other businesses to make similar commitments to reduce CO2 and “neutralize” residual emissions with “credible” offsets. But a meaningful impact on the climate only comes from a company getting rid of the vast majority of pollution, if not eliminating all emissions.
Amazon is not a good example of that – despite the company’s best PR efforts. To take the heat off the rising absolute carbon emissions, Amazon points to a more flattering number in its sustainability report. “The focus should not only be on a company’s carbon footprint in terms of absolute carbon emissions, but also on whether it is reducing carbon intensity,” the report says.
Amazon says it reduced its “carbon intensity” by a small number — 1.9 percent — meaning the emissions it produces for every dollar of goods sold fell a little. But this calculation can also be misleading because the reductions in carbon intensity are easily wiped out as the company’s operations grow.
That is exactly what has happened at Amazon. “As we work to decarbonize our company, Amazon is growing rapidly. We have scaled our business at an unprecedented pace to help meet the needs of our customers throughout the pandemic, the company says in its sustainability report. In other words, Amazon made a killing during the COVID-19 pandemic as e-commerce increased — and Amazon’s pollution grew along with its profits.
All of this shows why it is important to look at the entire company’s carbon footprint to see if it is actually reducing emissions overall. To make matters worse, the numbers Amazon reports are likely an undercount of how much pollution the e-commerce giant is really responsible for because — unlike some other companies, including Target — Amazon doesn’t include the emissions that come from making many of the products it sells .
And while keeping track of carbon dioxide emissions is important to tackling the climate crisis that supercharges devastating heat waves, droughts, wildfires, storms and other disasters – it doesn’t capture the full range of problems associated with Amazon’s mushroom warehouses and all those smiley-faced diesel cars who delivers. For years, many communities where Amazon builds warehouses have called the company out for bringing more smog, soot and noise to their neighborhoods. This latest report shows that Amazon still has a long way to go to prevent all the pollution it creates.