If Amazon is serious about climate change, why is it ignoring tropical forests?

Insight / 13 May 2020

Despite Amazon’s Climate Pledge, policies on deforestation are absent

With large parts of the world in lockdown, shops shut and people stuck inside, it is no surprise that profits are soaring for the online retailer Amazon.

After shares in the company reached record highs last week, Amazon announced that it was committing US$10 million to restore and conserve 4 milllion acres of forest in the United States. This is part of the company’s high profile Climate Pledge to be net zero carbon by 2040, announced by chief executive Jeff Bezos in September last year. And it is of course positive.

But new analysis by Global Canopy shows that, despite Amazon’s stated ambition of having net-zero carbon by 2040, its plan doesn’t seem to include anything about reducing its own role in driving tropical deforestation.

This is particularly disappointing given the company relies on vast quantities of pulp and paper to package the millions of parcels it delivers to our doors – while tropical deforestation accounts for more carbon dioxide emissions than the European Union.

Amazon’s absent deforestation policies

The scale of Amazon’s exposure to deforestation through its packaging and the products it sells is the reason the company is included in Global Canopy’s Forest 500 ranking – an assessment of the 500 companies with the most power to reduce tropical deforestation.

Each year, these companies are assessed on their commitments to remove deforestation from their supply chains, and the actions they report taking to do this.

Our assessment, published in February, found that Amazon was among the worst companies in the ranking, scoring just 1/5.  We reviewed our findings this week, but found that Amazon’s deforestation commitments have not changed.

It still does not have any explicit policies in place to ensure that the products it sources are not driving tropical deforestation.

This is particularly concerning given the amounts of packaging the company needs. Amazon does not appear to ask suppliers to make any effort to protect priority forests, and nor does it appear to be making any effort to even understand where the pulp and paper used in its packaging come from.

Weak green promises

Amazon does score points for having a policy to reduce the use of packaging – and the company requires suppliers to use recyclable packaging. But as far as Amazon is concerned, it can be sourced from areas of rainforest that have been cleared to make way for plantations.

The company also has a weak policy to source “sustainable” palm oil – used in some of the products it sells. But it does not explicitly require palm oil supplies to be deforestation-free.

Policies for products containing soy, beef and leather score even less well. Amazon does not recognise the deforestation-risk associated with selling goods containing any of these forest-risk commodities, and only scores points in our assessment for its commitments on labour rights and gender equality.

Climate action means action on deforestation

Jeff Bezos is well aware of the power of his company to drive change – launching the Climate Pledge, the company’s founder said: “We’ve decided to use our size and scale to make a difference.” But if he is serious about achieving his climate goals, he needs to take action to change the way his company operates.

That means recognising that his company profits are currently made on the back of deforestation – and that tackling the loss of forests at source is the best way to reduce the emissions.

Amazon – and other poor performing companies in Forest 500 – needs to publish policies that commit the company to ensuring that none of the forest-risk commodities they rely on are linked to deforestation – whether in their packaging, clothing lines, or food products.

And if Amazon wants to be taken seriously for its climate commitments, it needs to show that it is implementing those policies, providing clear details on what it has done, and what still needs to be achieved.

It is only welcome that Jeff Bezos recognises the urgent need for business to take action for the climate – as one of the companies benefitting from the current crisis, he is one of the lucky few currently able to do the right thing. Anything less will not do.

Photo (top): Amazon has not made any commitment to ensure its packaging is deforestation-free, photo: Province of British Columbia via flickr.com, creative commons licence

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