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What is the 'Amazon climate pledge,' and how can you use it to shop better this holiday season?

To meet the criteria for a "Climate Pledge Friendly" badge, a product must have at least one of the certifications featured on Amazon's certification page.

Amazon Climate Pledge

Photo Credit: iStock

As we approach Black Friday, many of us will be shopping more — but can we shop more consciously at the same time?

Amazon's Climate Pledge aims to help customers shop more sustainably. Here's what that could mean for you. 

What is The Climate Pledge?

The Climate Pledge is online mega-retailer Amazon's commitment to reach "net-zero" carbon pollution by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Climate Agreement

"Net zero" means the company is working to remove the same amount of pollution from the air as it puts in through a variety of techniques, like cutting down on its current levels of pollution and investing in solutions to remove carbon pollution from the air, like reforestation projects. 

The pledge was co-created in 2019 by Amazon and Global Optimism, a purpose-driven organization led by Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac. 

Since then, more than 370 companies, including Visa and Uber, have joined Amazon in signing The Climate Pledge, and, as of March 2022, $3.5 trillion has been collectively generated in global annual revenue by pledge endorsers.

To sign the pledge, a company must commit to the following three practices.

First, it must agree to regularly report the amount of pollution stemming from its operations. 

Second, it must work to eliminate carbon pollution through meaningful business changes and innovations, such as improving efficiencies or switching to cleaner energy sources. 

And lastly, it must neutralize any remaining carbon pollution with additional, credible offsets to achieve net-zero annual carbon pollution by 2040.

Can the Amazon Climate Pledge help you shop better?

If you've browsed on Amazon recently, you may have noticed products with a "Climate Pledge Friendly" badge. 

Photo Credit: Screenshot

The badge, which launched in 2020, is meant to help guide shoppers toward products that "meet sustainability standards and help preserve the natural world."

To meet the criteria for a "Climate Pledge Friendly" badge, a product must have at least one of the certifications featured on Amazon's certification page, or by Amazon's own certifications, Compact by Design or Pre-owned Certified.

Amazon showcases these products, such as Seventh Generation Laundry Detergent Packs and  Nuduko Biodegradable Bamboo Toothbrushes, in a Featured Climate Pledge Friendly storefront

Why is the Amazon Climate Pledge important?

Easy access retail options that promise lightning-fast shipping, like Amazon, have a massive impact on our planet. 

For example, the Verge looked into the environmental impact of Amazon and found that the company generated a massive 71.54 million metric tons of carbon pollution last year, an 18% increase from 2020 — and that's since they co-created The Climate Pledge. 

This equates to the same amount of carbon pollution created by 15.4 million gasoline-powered cars driven in one year, according to an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency's Greenhouse Gas Equivalencies Calculator

Allegations of greenwashing

Jennifer Rushlow, associate dean of environmental programs at Vermont Law School, told NBC's Select that Amazon has "an unfathomably large" carbon footprint, so any and all carbon pollution reductions from the company can make a difference. 

Still, Rushlow added that there is still suspicion that "Amazon is using the Climate Pledge as a marketing ploy." The practice of committing to eco-friendly promises but not actually delivering in order to generate more sales among eco-conscious consumers is often referred to as greenwashing

Further, a 2022 report by the NewClimate Institute called the company's goal of net-zero carbon by 2040 "unsubstantiated" based on current progress and business practices, the Associated Press reports. 

For its part, Amazon told Select that it is still "committed to using its size and scale to make a difference in preserving the natural world," adding that it "cannot do this alone" and pointing to the Climate Pledge as evidence of trying to form a community with a unified purpose.

While we all need to think more about how our retail habits might affect the environment, huge companies like Amazon also need to take action themselves to reduce their impact at every stage, from manufacturing and storage to transport and delivery. 

That's why it's not just vital that pledges like this one are made, but that they are stuck to. 

The bottom line 

Looking into companies that have signed The Climate Pledge can give you an idea of businesses that are trying to change practices that harm our planet.

However, it's always a good idea to look more deeply into the track records of companies that you shop with to see where their money goes, what kind of packaging they use, and how their products are transported.

Amazon's Climate Pledge Friendly badge can help guide you toward products that have earned some type of sustainability certification, but it is still advisable to check out what exactly those certifications mean. 

You can also shop better by changing your own habits. Shop local or secondhand, avoid next-day delivery whenever possible, and even shop in person to reduce the pollution stemming from your purchases.

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