Is Shopping On Amazon Eco-Friendly?

With its humongous selection of products, lightening quick delivery, and being one of the first eCommerce sites back in the 90s Amazon has become a go-to destination for many shoppers. But I’ve started to wonder whether shopping on Amazon is eco-friendly.

Let’s be honest, there are so many eco-friendly alternatives to Amazon that you can shop from.

Like many people, though, I’m a frequent Amazon customer because of its convenience. I’ve taken the opportunity to do some research to find out whether the retail behemoth is sustainable to buy from.

Four out of five people in the UK shop on Amazon, so should we be having second thoughts about our go-to online shop?

Is Amazon Sustainable?

The harsh truth is that no, Amazon are not eco-friendly. Their most recent sustainability report has declared that their aim is to have a net-positive impact on the world, and as the world’s largest retailer that makes hundreds of billions of dollars in profit every year they must be held to the highest degree of scrutiny.

Amazon has however taken very recent steps to make its services more sustainable. The company has launched a several dedicated “eco-friendly” product lines and programs to help guide consumers in the UK and other European countries to household products with sustainable credentials.

They are also investing heavily into renewables and have set ambitious carbon net zero targets.

The Good

  • 100% of their electricity for operations will be powered by renewables by 2025
  • All packaging used by Amazon in the UK is completely recyclable
  • Climate Pledge Friendly program helps shoppers identify more sustainable products
  • Amazon Renewed helps you buy refurbished electronics

The Ugly

  • “Eco-friendly” product lines are debatably greenwashing
  • Amazon are still a long way away from being carbon neutral

Climate Pledge Friendly Helps You Find Sustainable Products

Amazon has launched a new program called “Climate Pledge Friendly” to make it easier for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products.

The program highlights products that have one or more of 19 sustainability certifications, such as Fairtrade, Rainforest Alliance, and USDA Organic. The products are also rated based on their carbon footprint, waste reduction, and other sustainability factors.

Amazon's Climate Pledge Friendly badge on a product

As you shop, you’ll notice the Climate Pledge Friendly badge on products that are certified by one of the sustainability certifications. This makes it a lot easier to identify products that are more ethical.

You can actually shop all their Climate Pledge Friendly products here.

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I still use Amazon as a convenient retailer to buy sustainable products, so I created a list of some of the best eco-friendly products on Amazon.

They Are Not Carbon Neutral

Amazon are not currently carbon neutral. They have committed to reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2040. This means that they aim to balance the amount of carbon they emit with the amount they remove from the atmosphere.

The company have only just begun to be more transparent about their carbon emissions. Amazon only started publicly releasing their carbon footprint in 2019, and in 2022 their emissions were 40% higher than they were in 2019. This was down to the increase in sales due to the pandemic lockdowns.

Amazon is investing a lot of money into renewable energy, and they are close to achieving using 100% renewable energy for all of their operations ahead of their 2030 target.

However, it is worth noting that Amazon recently quietly scrapped its “Shipment Zero” initiative: which aimed to make 50% of its shipments net-zero carbon by 2030. Instead, they have rolled this goal into their broader Climate Pledge to reach net-zero carbon across all their operations by 2040.

Amazon Aware Products Are Carbon Neutral

In 2022 Amazon launched Amazon Aware: a line of everyday products including clothing, decor, cosmetics, and household essentials. All of the products are carbon neutral and are designed using more ethical materials like organic cotton and recycled polyester.

On top of that these products meet Amazon’s own Climate Pledge Friendly criteria by being certified by sustainable labels, such as Fair Trade Certified and OEKO-TEX.

If, for example, you were on a tight budget and wanted to find some simple clothing that offered better sustainability credentials than other retailers – Amazon Aware might be a good alternative.

Pictured: Amazon Aware Women’s Recycled Polyester Stretch Satin Georgette Strap Midi Dress

However, upon closer inspection these products are only superficially eco-friendly. The Amazon Aware products are made to be carbon neutral through carbon offsetting, which is often challenged as a greenwashing tactic.

Each product’s carbon footprint is calculated, including the emissions of materials, production, distribution, and end-of-life– and then Amazon will offset these emissions through funding a tree planting project, for example.

So while Amazon Aware is an acceptable place to purchase budget-friendly products that do meet good sustainability criteria via certificates, they are only carbon neutral via offsetting!

Amazon Renewed Offers Refurbished Electricals

Another way for customers to shop more sustainably is through Amazon Renewed. This program offers pre-owned products that have been professionally inspected, refurbished and tested by Amazon-qualified suppliers to work and look like new.

These products are predominantly electricals like mobile phones, laptops, and cameras for example. There’s the option of picking ‘excellent’, ‘good’, and ‘acceptable’ condition items. All the products come with a 90-day warranty too, which is particularly useful in the event something stops working.

By buying refurbished products, you can help reduce electronic waste and extend the life of a product.

Amazon’s Packaging Is Recyclable

All the paper bags, cardboard envelopes and cardboard boxes used by Amazon in the UK are 100% recyclable. Since 2022, all products that Amazon distribute and fulfil in the UK have also stopped packaged using single-use plastic delivery bags.

However, any orders through Amazon that are fulfilled by a third party are not guaranteed to packaged using recyclable materials. According to Amazon: “more than 50% of sales comes from third party selling partners“. Put simply this is where a business advertises their products on Amazon and then chooses whether or not they want Amazon to deal with the delivery.

In the case where the business decides to organise the delivery themselves there is no guarantee that you’ll receive your items in recyclable packaging.

It is difficult to determine exactly how many businesses use Amazon’s fulfilment service, known as Amazon FBA. However, several studies have shown that Amazon’s fulfilment service is the most popular fulfilment method, used by 90% of third-party sellers.

While Amazon can’t guarantee your products will be sustainably packaged, the statistics suggest that a significant portion of Amazon deliveries will be using easily recyclable materials.

Should You Continue To Use Amazon?

I’ll start with an admission: I will continue to shop at Amazon.

For convenience, and often from a price point of view, a lot of the products you can find on there are worth buying. In fact, a lot of the zero waste swaps that I have researched and recommended are on there.

If, like me, you continue to shop at Amazon, follow these steps to try to minimise your environmental impact: I will always try bulk buy my order on there to reduce the number of deliveries they will need to make, and I will always buy the most sustainable option they have.

Let me know whether you’ll continue to use them, and what you’d like Amazon to do more of in the future!

Omar Agor-Wood
Omar Agor-Wood

Omar is a digital marketer by day for one of the UK's largest environmental consultancy companies, and is writing like the world depends on it for Pick Ethical at night. He has a passion for hiking, bouldering, and making a fuss of his dog.

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