Now Is a Good Time for Brands to Press Pause and Create a More Sustainable Path Forward

Major players like Amazon need to step up more than ever

a globe in a cityscape made up of boxes
Too many companies are still making excuses about why they don't have sustainability protocols in place. Getty Images
Headshot of Rigel Cable

Perhaps like me, you have ordered something small from Amazon and had it shipped to you in a box that was twice as large as needed. Or you placed multiple orders over a few days and the items were shipped in two packages when they could have easily been shipped in one. Perhaps you’ve noticed your building’s recycling collection is overflowing with cardboard every week. This is the Amazon effect.

According to Sims Municipal Recycling, the company that collects most of New York’s recovered cardboard, as reported in The Verge: “Corrugated cardboard—the kind boxes are made of—is almost half of the curbside recycling stream today. It was just 15% of curbside recycling 15 years ago.”

Even streamlined packaging, which was supposed to help reduce packaging materials, has caused new problems and demands for our recycling systems. Amazon disclosed in its September 2019 sustainability report that it contributed 44.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. According to CDP, a third-party group that monitors carbon emissions formerly known as the Carbon Disclosure Project, this exceeded what FedEx, UPS and Apple put out.

As environmentalists, how can we continue to use Amazon unless it makes significant changes? This brings me back to the company’s namesake: the Amazon rainforest. According to Vox via the National Institute for Space Research, the deforestation rate increased by 30% from 2018 to 2019 under the country’s Bolsonaro regime, the highest deforestation rate recorded. To date, the Amazon has lost 15-17% of its original forest, and widespread fires have become more commonplace.

[Sustainability offers] an opportunity to set the narrative about your business.

Bezos said that he wants Amazon to lead the way with sustainability and climate change, so for a company that is named after one of our planet’s most precious resources, some bold moves should be made to renew it. For a company that has been criticized for everything from unfair labor practices to inadequate safety measures during COVID-19, it’s time for Amazon to take a stand and take meaningful actions to better the environment. Companies like Starbucks have found ways to source 99% of their coffee ethically, and Patagonia aims to make their supply chain carbon neutral by 2025, so now is the time for Amazon to do something.

Sustainability matters to consumers. NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business found that from 2013 to 2018, 50% of CPG growth came from sustainable product offerings and 81% of consumers say that brands should help improve the environment. According to the Harvard Business Review, “telling online shoppers that other people were buying eco-friendly products led to a 65% increase in making at least one sustainable purchase.”

So, what can your company do today?

Audit and disclose your sustainability practices as a company

There are standardized ways to estimate your carbon dioxide equivalent based on your company’s business and impact, such as manufacturing and shipping. Consider disclosing your sustainability practices with CDP, which provides a systematic approach to environmental impact and a method to benchmark your company against others.

Provide your company’s perspective on environmentalism

It’s already true that every business needs to address sustainability. Whether on products directly or on the brand’s website, consumers will look for this information. This is an opportunity to set the narrative about your business. Talk about your tangible future commitments, tell a story about what you are already doing to help the environment and explore the ways the environment connects to your brand.

Add conservation-forward products to your catalog

With companies like Ecoalf and Bandulu, which are leading the way in fashion upcycling, there will be a new wave of sustainable brands. As shoppers push to close the gap between consumerism and sustainability, it will be imperative for companies to develop products that put the environment first. Now is the time to add recycled, carbon offset, sustainable items into your product set, whether fashion, CPG and even services.

As we grapple with sustainability as a planet and consumers awaken to the fact that there is no way forward with the status quo in consumer waste streams, all brands, not just Amazon, will be faced with this new challenge. Electric cars, recycled apparel and used item marketplaces will become the norm, and brands and consumers will push each other forward in the quest for a greener planet.

@rigelgemini Rigel Cable is director of analytics and SEO at Astound Commerce. He is also a noted social media influencer Rigel Gemini on Instagram and YouTube.