Amazon's carbon footprint worsened last year despite climate initiatives

Aerial view showing smoke from a fire billowing from the Amazon rainforest in Oiapoque, Amapa state,...


More CO2 produced by Amazon in 2021 than 2019


Amazon produced about 71.54 metric tons of carbon dioxide last year, an 18 percent increase year-over-year, the company revealed in its latest sustainability report. That’s a full 20 million metric tons of CO2 more than Amazon produced in 2019, despite the expansion of Amazon’s climate programs. That fleet of all-electric Rivian vans has a lot of work cut out for it.

In a letter preceding the report, Amazon VP of Worldwide Sustainability, Kara Hurst, takes plenty of time to explain that cutting carbon emissions at a company as enormous as Amazon is never going to be easy. “The journey to become more sustainable is not simple or straightforward for any organization,” Hurst writes. “For a company the size and broad scope of Amazon, it’s a big challenge.” Don’t fret, though — Hurst says Amazon doesn’t shy away from big challenges.

Hurst does not explain how, exactly, Amazon plans to confront its ever-growing carbon footprint. Instead, she lists a few of Amazon’s existing climate initiatives and spends the rest of the letter patting Amazon on the back for donating money to humanitarian crises in Ukraine and the U.S.

Only getting worse — The numbers here speak for themselves. Amazon produced about 51.17 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019; by the end of 2021, that number had reached 71.54 million metric tons. That’s a 40 percent increase over a two-year period — a period during which Amazon says it was working overtime to minimize its effects on the environment. (This figure does not even take into account the carbon produced by its third-party sellers.)

Amazon, in attempting to highlight its “progress,” points out that it produced 1.9 percent less carbon per dollar spent on the site last year. This figure is moot when taken in context with the significant overall increase in carbon produced by the company. The slight reduction in carbon output per order doesn’t really help when the number of orders being fulfilled is growing so enormously.

Fighting against itself — Amazon is, by its own admission, an extremely large operation. In fact, this is one of Amazon’s favorite bragging points. With every passing day, it’s creating more jobs, shipping more packages, and expanding into new industries. Its data centers are always getting larger and more robust. This mindset of infinite expansion is inherently antithetical to the project of reducing climate impact. As long as it continues to eat up everything in sight, Amazon will continue producing record-breaking levels of carbon dioxide.

Amazon has set itself a goal of being entirely carbon-neutral by 2040. It may be able to hit this goal on paper by doing some clever math, buying up “carbon offsets,” and planting trees. It will certainly convince many that this theoretical carbon-neutrality is an impressive feat. And all the while, it will continue to produce more carbon dioxide than entire countries do.