Amazon climate report: Rising environmental emissions show need for innovation

After using 96 pages to promote their company’s numerous environment-saving efforts, Amazon officials saved the most important information for the final section of the company’s latest sustainability report.

In its journey to reach net-zero carbon emissions by 2040, Amazon’s total carbon footprint grew—yes, grew—by 18% last year, from 60.64 million metric tons to 71.54 million metric tons. 

And despite all manner of mitigation attempts—renewable energy investments, sustainable construction, electric vehicle purchases, improved packaging—the tech conglomerate’s emissions relative to gross merchandise sales only declined 1.9% in 2021.

Somebody get Greta Thunberg on the line.

The third-annual report from Amazon, which co-founded a net-zero climate pledge drive in 2019, offered the latest reminder to take Big Tech environmental pledges with a boulder of salt. Until green technology evolves to the point that gas-guzzling cargo flights and energy-sapping factories run on renewables—a far-off proposition with no clear target date in sight—Amazon and its industry rivals will continue to disappoint ardent environmentalists.

Amazon’s results in 2021 offer one of the clearest examples yet of reality falling far, far short of promises, with no end in sight.

In a year marked by freewheeling spending by consumers, corporations, and investors, Amazon’s business took off. The company’s total revenue hit $469.8 billion in 2021, up 22% from the prior year, as e-commerce sales soared and demand for its cloud-computing business boomed.

Amazon’s carbon emissions increased at a similar clip despite the company’s numerous climate-centric initiatives. Its fossil fuel use for direct operations, such as air and ground shipping, rose 27% from the prior year. Its construction and equipment-related emissions spiked 46%. Corporate activities, including the production of Amazon-branded products, produced 14% more carbon emissions.

Amazon certainly isn’t alone in struggling to curb its carbon footprint—most notably, Microsoft’s emissions jumped 21.5% in 2020-21—but it’s made environmental altruism central to the company’s brand. The e-commerce giant launched The Climate Pledge three years ago, ultimately attracting more than 300 companies willing to commit to net-zero emissions by 2040. 

In reality, though, Big Tech’s environmental goals remain largely at the mercy of innovation. 

Amazon can spend nearly 100 pages touting its South African solar farms and fleets of bike-riding cargo carriers, but those carbon savings are a pittance. True progress will arrive when two-day shipping and data center operations approach carbon-neutral status, developments that still require many iterations of technological advancement.

Amazon officials acknowledged as much in their sustainability report, if only in vague terms.

“The challenges we collectively face on the path to net-zero carbon are considerable,” company officials wrote. “Many new technologies are showing promise in their ability to reduce carbon emissions, but may still require significant development. We need to both invent new solutions and scale and drive down the costs of known solutions.”

Amazon certainly deserves some credit for its environmental efforts. The company doesn’t report its annual emissions-related spending, but it’s fair to assume the number reaches hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars. Amazon has ordered more than 100,000 electric delivery vehicles, helping to prop up an important industry. It has also set aside $2 billion for venture capital investments in companies developing sustainable technologies and services. 

And yet, those investments offer minimal evidence to date that Amazon will reverse its carbon course anytime in the near future. Unless it plans on spending ungodly sums on future carbon credits—a prospect that shareholders will surely shun—Amazon better hope that modern science makes some major breakthroughs in the next 20 years. 

Otherwise, company officials might need to bury their emissions data even deeper.

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Jacob Carpenter

NEWSWORTHY

Finally cashing in. Uber shares spiked 18% in mid-day trading Tuesday after the ride-hailing company topped analysts’ quarterly revenue estimates and posted its first-ever quarter with positive free cash flow, CNBC reported. Uber generated $8.07 billion in revenue, easily beating Wall Street forecasts of $7.39 billion, thanks to better-than-expected ride-share demand. The company still reported net losses totaling $2.6 billion, with $1.7 billion attributed to realized and paper investment losses.

A scrap of hope. Pinterest shares rallied 13% in mid-day trading Tuesday, as investors signaled their optimism in the digital scrapbooking site despite an underwhelming second quarter, MarketWatch reported. The surge came as activist shareholder Elliott Management gave a vote of confidence to new Pinterest CEO Bill Ready, who took over from co-founder Ben Silbermann in late June. Pinterest also reported virtually no change in active users from the prior quarter, ending a string of user losses, though earnings fell short of analyst expectations.

Bridge to no money. Hackers stole nearly $200 million from a crypto bridge protocol used to transfer funds between blockchains, the latest heist to rattle the sector, CoinDesk reported. Researchers concluded that a security flaw in the Nomad protocol allowed users to create fake transactions, giving them the opportunity to withdraw money meant for a different recipient. The loss is believed to be the third-largest from a crypto protocol this year, behind a $600 million attack on the Ronin bridge and a $300 million theft from the Wormhole bridge.

An unwelcome August. Oracle’s plan to cut thousands of jobs began in earnest Monday, with the tech giant laying off an undisclosed number of employees in the U.S., The Information reported. Oracle officials have discussed cutbacks totaling $1 billion, though they haven’t released detailed plans or layoff targets. The Information reported that Oracle’s marketing and customer experience teams were primarily hit by the layoffs.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Know your market. American consumers love their Costco and Sam’s Club—one of several facts that fast-delivery companies overlooked in their ill-fated, pandemic-fueled rush to expand. Four industry experts interviewed by Insider said Getir, Gopuff, and several other struggling fast-delivery firms couldn’t replicate the sector’s success in Europe due to a fundamental misunderstanding of U.S. customers. While venture capitalists invested tens of billions of dollars in fast-delivery companies last year, the industry’s biggest players have all cut staff, abandoned markets, or closed for business.

From the article

Several ultrafast players had learned the business outside the U.S.. Gorillas, for instance, perfected its model on the streets of Berlin, while Buyk’s founders had run an ultrafast-delivery service called Samokat in Russia.

But analysts told Insider this may have led to blind spots when it came to the American consumer.

Shoppers in Europe tend to buy fresh groceries every few days. In the U.S., people with larger homes often buy goods in quantities that could last a week or more, Hawkins said. And persistent inflation has made bulk buying even more attractive.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

Apple chipmaker boss Mark Liu warns a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a disaster with only losers: ‘Why do we jump again into another trap?’, by Christiaan Hetzner

Taiwan’s business community has carefully navigated U.S.-Beijing relations. Fallout from Pelosi’s visit may force it to finally take sides, by Grady McGregor

The cofounder of a $4 billion VC firm says the bear market has Silicon Valley somewhere in the 5 stages of grief. ‘We’re probably somewhere between anger and bargaining’, by Will Daniel

The 15 biggest ‘downrounds’ of 2022, by Kevin Kelleher

Here come the Roarin’ 20s. Invest until it hurts, by John Dilullo

Why India could single-handedly shape the future of e-commerce this summer, by Vivek Wadhwa and Alex Salkever

BEFORE YOU GO

Like taking candy from a boss. There’s a band of sweets swindlers on the loose, and the man behind the Dum Dums digital empire is out to find these suckers. Bloomberg reported Tuesday that scammers are buying the signature lollipops in bulk from discount retailers like Sam’s Club and selling them on Amazon at a higher price. The price gap nets a nice profit for the resellers, but is a costly problem for Dum Dums producer Spangler Candy. It’s the latest example of entrepreneurial charlatans taking advantage of incomplete oversight by Amazon, which is struggling to keep up with hucksters employing the undercutting tactics (the practice violates Amazon policy). Mitchell Owens, who runs Spangler Candy’s e-commerce operations, said the racket has cost the 115-year-old family business millions of dollars in lost revenue and legal fees.

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