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Amazon sparks outrage after abandoning a major promise it made four years ago: 'Meaningless lip service'

"We can now see a path to net zero carbon delivery of shipments to customers."

Amazon's 'Shipment Zero' program

Photo Credit: iStock

While many companies have made climate promises in recent years, Amazon has just provided a reminder that no one is enforcing those pledges. 

The company has just backed out of a promise it made in 2019 to make half of its shipments carbon neutral (i.e. the company will remove as much pollution from the air as half its shipments create) by 2030, Business Insider reports. The "Shipment Zero" announcement is gone from Amazon's blog — but the internet remembers.

What happened?

About four years ago, Amazon announced that it would help reduce the amount of heat-trapping pollution it pumps into the atmosphere through an initiative called Shipment Zero. The original announcement is no longer visible, but has been captured by the Wayback Machine, an online archive showing web pages as they appeared in the past.

The Wayback Machine reveals a pledge to dramatically reduce the company's impact on the environment.

"For the first time we can now see a path to net zero carbon delivery of shipments to customers, and we are setting an ambitious goal for ourselves to reach 50% of all Amazon shipments with net zero carbon by 2030," the company wrote.

However, a more recent statement showed that the company had abandoned that goal. Instead, it said it would be working on its "Climate Pledge."

While the Climate Pledge is broader, promising that the whole company will reach net zero carbon, the due date is also a full decade later, in 2040.

Social media users were up in arms about the move. 

"Turns out [a] livable planet is just a bit too expensive. So how about a meaningless lip service to make you feel better?" one Redditor said. "We have those."

"As we examined our work toward The Climate Pledge, we realized that it was time to start moving the goalposts so that we never have to actually incur the cost of changing anything," another mocked

Why does Amazon's change of mind matter?

When a company says it's "carbon neutral" or produces "net zero carbon," it claims to remove as much heat-trapping carbon pollution from the atmosphere as it produces.

One way to do this is by switching to nonpolluting equipment, such as EVs instead of gas-powered delivery vehicles, so the company doesn't produce pollution from burning gas in the first place. Another option is to fund programs that remove pollution from the atmosphere, such as planting trees. Some companies do this directly, while others purchase carbon credits, which have their own problems.

Either way, a commitment to net zero carbon would mean Amazon is cutting way back on the amount of heat-trapping gas it creates through daily operations. Since the company is so huge and ships so many products every day, that could really help with cooling down our planet.

On the surface, the promise to make the whole company carbon neutral may look like a step forward. But by walking back its earlier climate promises and pushing the due date, Amazon is all but saying that it intends to continue polluting in the meantime.

If the company will break one climate promise, it could easily break another, too.

What can I do about air pollution?

Amazon is far from the only company putting profits over the environment. The best thing individuals can do to end these practices is to research and choose companies that prioritize the environment. Brands designated as Certified B Corporations, like Patagonia, have met rigorous social and environmental standards set by the nonprofit organization B Lab.

When possible, buy local products or secondhand items to minimize the need for long-distance shipping. Steer clear of plastic packaging whenever possible, particularly with home goods that frequently need replacing, like laundry detergent and hand soap.  

You can also vote for policy changes that will push businesses to be more responsible, instead of relying on a company's promises.

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