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In July 2021, Ethical Consumer sent Amazon a questionnaire seeking information on how the company reported on its environmental impact. No response was received. A search of the company’s corporate website brought up many pages on the environment, which were used to rate Amazon’s environmental reporting against key indicators.

An environmental policy was deemed necessary to report on a company's environmental performance and set targets for reducing its impacts in the future. A strong policy would:

1. Include two future, quantified environmental targets

The report included quantified targets related to the company’s net zero carbon commitments, including :
net zero carbon across Amazon by 2040
powering its operations with 100% renewable energy by 2025

2. Demonstrate that the company had a reasonable understanding of its main environmental impacts, which needed to include at least a discussion of toxics, transportation, energy use and sourcing of raw materials

The report discussed the company’s efforts in relation to carbon emissions, renewable energy, transportation, packaging, energy use at fulfilment centres and offices, water saving, sale of sustainable products, and limiting the use of toxic chemicals in Amazon-owned personal care and household brands, circular economy, The report did not discuss the sourcing of raw materials and toxic chemicals in relation to its electronics brands. It was not therefore considered to have demonstrated adequate understanding of its environmental impacts.

3. Be dated within two years
The report contained data for the year 2020.

4. Have its environmental data independently verified
The carbon emission data in the report had been verified by Apex but not the other environmental data in the report.

Amazon met criteria 1 and 3. It therefore received Ethical Consumer's middle rating for Environmental Reporting and lost half a mark in this category.


Amazon corporate website sustainability section (5 July 2021)

In October 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed the Greenpeace Report ‘Clicking Clean Virginia - The Dirty Energy Powering Data Center Alley’ dated February 2019.

The Clicking Clean reports benchmark global internet platforms and major data center operators on their use of renewable and dirty energy within their data centres. According to the 2019 report 70 percent of the world’s internet traffic is claimed to pass through just one of Virginia’s counties, and dramatic expansion increases demand in coal and natural gas. Less than 5 percent of power generation in Virginia comes from renewable sources.

The report stated, “Since 2012, more than 20 major tech companies have committed to power their global operations with renewable energy.”

“Despite 100% renewable commitments that have had significant impact in driving renewables in other markets, Virginia is an important reminder that utilities will only begin to scale up renewable generation when large customers seriously pursue their commitments”.

"AWS committed in November of 2014 to use 100 percent renewable energy for its global AWS operations . However, unlike other companies, AWS has not included a deadline to meet its 100 percent goal . In 2015 and 2016, AWS signed contacts for six solar projects in Virginia as well as a 72-megawatt wind project in North Carolina to deliver a total of 132 megawatts of renewable energy to the Dominion grid (which powers the lion’s share of AWS’s Virginia-based data centers) . However, since November 2016, AWS has not signed any new renewable contracts anywhere and has in fact withdrawn from a previously announced contract for a large new wind farm in Ohio. While AWS continues to claim it reached 50 percent renewable energy usage in January 2018, the company has remained notoriously
opaque when it comes to publicly reporting information about its current energy use and how fast it is growing, making it difficult to assess whether its contracts for renewable energy are keeping up with its rapidly growing data center energy demand . In Virginia, where AWS’s cloud touches the ground more than anywhere else, it’s matching just 8 percent of its demand with renewable power".

The company lost a whole mark under Climate Change, being one of the worst performing companies in the report.


Clicking Clean Virginia 2019 (February 2019)

In July 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed a page on Amazon Web Services' website entitled 'AWS Energy', which advertised the company's products and services to the energy industry.

The page included case studies on how fossil fuel giants BP and Shell had used AWS in their operations.
As a result, the company lost half a mark under the Climate Change category.


AWS website (5 July 2021)

In May 2020, Ethical Consumer viewed an article dated January 2020 on Greenpeace's website which discussed the performance of Google, Amazon in Microsoft on climate change issues.

The article stated: "Amazon’s renewable commitment also only covers its own operations and electricity use, but leaves out its supply chain — which, in Amazon’s case, is more than 75% of its overall carbon footprint. Amazon Web Services is the largest cloud service provider in the world, with an ever growing network of data centers, often situated in locations with dirty forms of energy. What’s more, with a delivery network as vast as Amazon’s, the company should set more aggressive goals to transition to a fully electric fleet and other lower carbon options. Plus, Amazon is offering machine learning and other AI technologies to oil companies like BP, Shell and others. That’s essentially two steps back for every step forward, Amazon."

As a result of this criticism, Amazon lost half a mark under the Climate Change category.


Microsoft, Google, Amazon – Who’s the Biggest Climate Hypocrite? (2020)

In July 2021, Ethical Consumer searched Amazon's website for its policy on the use of toxic chemicals in clothing, as Amazon sold a number of own-brand clothing products.

Many of the processes involved in the manufacture of clothing, especially the production of man made fibres and dying of fabrics, release numerous hazardous substances that have a significant negative environmental impact. As the issue was considered to be an industry wide problem all clothing companies were marked down under pollution and toxics unless: they used 100% sustainably sourced materials (i.e. organic, recycled or cotton sourced under the Better Cotton Initiative); or had a turnover of less than £10.2 million and were providing an environmental alternative. Some companies which were using a portion of sustainable materials only lost half a mark.

Amazon stated "We are working to ensure that all Amazon-owned Private Brands apparel products are made using cotton from more sustainable sources by the end of 2022. This includes using cotton sourced from recycled materials, from farms certified as producing organic cotton, or through the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI), a global nonprofit that aims to transform the cotton supply chain by developing Better Cotton as a sustainable mainstream commodity. After joining BCI in 2019, we sourced 48% of the cotton used for our Amazon-owned Private Brands apparel products as Better Cotton in 2020."

While this was a start, it was not sufficient to get a middle rating and Amazon received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for its toxic chemicals policy for clothing and lost a full mark in this category.


Our materials and commitments: Amazon chemicals policy (2020)

In July 2021, Ethical Consumer searched the Amazon website for the company's policy on the use of potentially hazardous chemicals BFRs and PVC and/or phthalates.

Amazon manufactured and sold electronics products. A toxics policy was deemed necessary for all electronics companies, as these substances were widely used by electronics companies and had a significant negative environmental impact when released after disposal.

A strong policy on toxics would include publicly disclosed data on the use of hazardous chemicals such as BFRs and PVC and/or phthalates; as well as clear, dated targets for ending their use.

A search of the company’s website brought up some brief vague text, and a list of restricted substances for Amazon-owned baby, household cleaning, personal care, and beauty brands. However, no policy covering the use of toxic chemicals in its electronics products was found.

As Amazon had no policy on the use of toxic chemicals in electronics, it received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for its toxic chemicals policy for electronics and lost a full mark under the Pollution and Toxics category.


Our materials and commitments: Amazon chemicals policy (2020)

In July 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Amazon's website for its policy on the use of toxic chemicals in household and personal care products.

As Amazon sold own-brand household and personal care products, it was expected to have a policy on the use of the hazardous chemicals parabens, triclosan and phthalates.

Some forms or uses of these chemicals were banned or restricted in the EU or the USA.
Triclosan is an antibacterial and a suspected endocrine disruptor. Parabens are also endocrine disruptors and have been linked to breast cancer. They are used as preservatives. Phthalates, usually DEP or DBP, are used in fragrances and are endocrine disruptors.
A strong policy on toxics would be no use of these chemicals or clear, dated targets for ending their use.

Amazon had published a Restricted Substances List of which it was stated: “our first Restricted Substance List (RSL) identifies the chemicals that we seek to avoid in Amazon-owned Private Brands baby, household cleaning, personal care, and beauty products in the U.S. and Europe. [...] In particular, it focuses on paraben preservatives, formaldehyde donor preservatives, phthalate solvents, nonylphenol (NP) and nonylphenol ethoxylate (NPE) surfactants, toluene, and triclosan.”
While Ethical Consumer acknowledged the progress made by Amazon with the introduction of a Restricted Substance List, it considered the statements to be weak. e.g. “We seek to avoid” and “all brands should work to phase out”. Ethical Consumer also expected to see quantified and dated targets applied to the policy.

As Amazon had a commitment to phase out the chemicals, but did not include phase-out dates, it received Ethical Consumer’s middle rating for its toxic chemicals policy for household and personal care products and lost half a mark in the Pollution and Toxics category.


Amazon corporate website sustainability section (5 July 2021)

In July 2021 Ethical Consumer viewed the Amazon website, notably the 'Responsible Sourcing' page on the 'Sustainability' section, for its timber sourcing policy, but no policy was found.
A timber policy was expected for companies for which wood and paper is a significant part of their product offering; Amazon owned a number of brands producing products that contained wood and paper, including for example Ravenna, Stone & Beam and Rivet which all sold home furniture.

Ethical Consumer's timber sourcing ranking required companies scoring a 'best' to cover six of the below issues:
1. Having a timber sourcing policy that covers all timber and timber-derived products
2. the exclusion of illegal timber or that sourced from unknown sources and...
3. ...a discussion on how a company ensures/ implements this
4. clear targets for sourcing timber from sustainably managed sources
5. a discussion of a good minimum standard
6. preference given to certified sources
7. a discussion about tropical hardwoods (THW) and the percentage of THW sourced that are FSC certified
8. involvement with a multi-stakeholder initiative or bridging programme such as the World Wildlife Fund- Global Forest Trade Network
9. use of reclaimed or recycled wood/ paper
10. a high total percentage (50%+) of FSC certified timber sourced by the company.

Amazon met none of the above criteria and therefore received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for its timber policy and lost a whole mark under Habitats and Resources.


Amazon corporate website sustainability section (5 July 2021)

In July 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Amazon’s SEC Filing SD form filed in 2020 for details of the company’s policy on conflict minerals. The eastern portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has long been the centre of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises. The revenue from the illegal mining and trading of the DRC's natural resources has been exploited to fund armed conflicts, and serious human rights abuses are connected to those conflicts and to the mines for certain ores. The ores are identified as conflict minerals and the metals that were derived from them (namely, tantalum, tin, tungsten and gold) exist in many consumer products including electronics. Ethical Consumer expected all companies manufacturing electronics, as Amazon did, to have a policy addressing the issue.

Ethical Consumer expected companies to have a policy that committed to conflict free sourcing, while continuing to source from the DRC region. Amazon’s report stated:

“We are committed to avoiding the use of minerals that have fueled conflict, and we expect our suppliers to support our efforts to identify the origin of gold, tin, tungsten, and tantalum used in products that we manufacture or contract to manufacture."

However, no evidence was found of a commitment to continuing to source from the DRC region.

Amazon was a member of the Responsible Minerals Initiative. It provided a list of smelters and refiners, but stated: "Because many of the suppliers for our in-scope products that provided country of origin and facility information provided this information to us for their entire supply chain, without specifying which facilities contributed gold, tin, tungsten, or tantalum used in components of the in-scope products, we are unable to validate the accuracy of the list".

As Amazon had not fulfilled the essential criterion of having a stated commitment to continuing to source from the DRC region, it received Ethical Consumer’s Worst Rating for Conflict Minerals and lost full marks under the Human Rights and Habitats and Resources categories.


From SD 2020 (5 July 2021)

In July 2019 Ethical Consumer viewed the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee report, 'Fixing Fashion: Clothing Consumption and Sustainability', published on 19th February 2019.

It stated: "The way we make, use and throwaway our clothes is unsustainable. Textile production contributes more to climate change than international aviation and shipping combined, consumes lake-sized volumes of fresh water and creates chemical and plastic pollution. Synthetic fibres are being found in the deep sea, in Arctic sea ice, in fish and shellfish. Our biggest retailers have ‘chased the cheap needle around the planet’, commissioning production in countries with low pay, little trade union representation and weak environmental protection. In many countries, poverty pay and conditions are standard for garment workers, most of whom are women. We are also concerned about the use of child labour, prison labour, forced labour and bonded labour in factories and the garment supply chain. Fast fashions’ overproduction and overconsumption of clothing is based on the globalisation of indifference towards these manual workers."

Amazon was one of several companies rated as 'least engaged' in sustainable fashion and labour market initiatives. It lost half a mark under each of the Climate Change, Habitats & Resources and Workers Rights categories.


FIXING FASHION: clothing consumption and sustainability (19 February 2019)

In July 2021, Ethical Consumer viewed Amazon’s website for a palm oil policy. The company owned a number of brands producing both food and cosmetic products with palm oil-derived ingredients. The mass production of palm oil has relied on the destruction of rainforests, which has wide ranging impacts including contributing to climate change, as well as loss of biodiversity and human rights.

The company was not found to be a member of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO).

The following statement was found relating to the company’s use of palm oil: “As of 2021, we use sustainably certified palm oil in all Amazon Private Brands food products in North America and Europe. In a small number of cases, palm oil credits may be used to cover very small volumes and complex derivatives. We revisit these cases annually with applicable suppliers and agree on plans to transition to physically certified sustainable palm oil where possible."

While this was a start, the company did not give further detail as to its palm oil policies or practices. As it was a large sized (over £100m turnover) company but did not list all mills and producer groups/parent companies (refiners), Amazon received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for Palm Oil Policy and Practice and lost a mark in the Palm Oil category.


Amazon corporate website sustainability section (5 July 2021)