Why the Amazon effect is dangerous for people and planet
Over the past decade, the ‘Amazon effect’ – the disruption the e-commerce giant has made to our lives and planet – has determined the workings of the delivery sector: shipping and returns have to be fast and they have to be free.
The e-commerce sector tripled in size between 2014 and 2019, while Covid-19 restrictions led to a worldwide boom in parcel deliveries in 2020. This resulted, predictably, in more packages, more vehicles, more pollution, more drivers, more waste and more CO2 emissions.
In the fall of 2021, the Charge the Streets campaign commissioned a report, Parcel Delivery on a Warming Planet, and found six major global logistics, e-commerce and retail companies (Amazon, Walmart, FedEx, UPS, Deutsche Post DHL Group and FlipKart) all failed to set ambitious targets to decarbonize. In addition, they do not provide clear and accessible data on the measures they are currently taking or any progress made to date. Whilst these companies acknowledge the climate crisis and the impact of last mile deliveries, they are falling short.
Charge the Street campaign’s conclusions:
- 2040 and certainly 2050 commitments are way too late.
- A ‘zero emissions’ target is considered the most ambitious, as it implies companies will fully eliminate all greenhouse gas emissions generated by their activities.
- A ‘net-zero emissions’ target, on the other hand, allows companies to continue to generate greenhouse gas emissions, as long as they ‘offset’ them by investing in measures or projects that supposedly compensate for these emissions, such as renewable energy or forestation projects.
- In every case, these commitments are all insufficient to
That’s why we are demanding that all companies listed above :
- Commit with urgency to 100% zero emissions deliveries by 2030.
- Immediately cease the procurement of any fossil-fuel powered delivery vehicles.
- Immediately (and then on a yearly basis) supply clear and comparable data on greenhouse gas emissions, measures taken to address environmental impacts and monitoring of the impact of these measures.
Companies’ Current Commitments
Five of the companies analysed have committed to reducing their emissions to either zero or net zero emissions by either 2040 or 2050, but the concrete translation of these commitments to companies’ delivery operations is much less clear.
- Only one plans to eliminate all emissions from its fleet (Walmart by 2040).
- Only two have set a target date for the full electrification of their road vehicles (FedEx by 2040 and Flipkart by 2030).
- One company has set a target year for the partial electrification of its fleet (Deutsche Post DHL Group, 60% by 2030).
- One company has set a partial net-zero fleet emissions target (Amazon).
- One company does not have a concrete fleet-related emissions goal at all (UPS)!
Large differences can be observed in the actions the six companies have taken to eliminate the climate impact of their fleets.
- By the end of 2020, Deutsche Post DHL’s fleet comprised just over 15,000 electric vehicles, equalling 14.5% of their entire fleet.
- Flipkart, Amazon and FedEx stated they have deployed 2,000, 1,800 and 500 electric vehicles in their delivery fleets respectively (2021), but do not make clear how this relates to the total size of their fleets.
- Walmart has only reported on pilot projects, including projects with electric vehicles, but has not yet announced any electric vehicle orders.
- Several companies have announced plans to purchase electric vehicles in the next five to ten years (e.g. Amazon, FedEx, UPS). However, given the small size of their current electric vehicle fleets and the expected growth of the global parcel delivery sector, most of the companies in this report will need to substantially accelerate their efforts to achieve their fleet electrification or emissions targets.
A lack of transparency also clouds the waters. Only one of these companies produces specific and accessible data on the size of its current fleet and the different types of vehicles therein (Deutsche Post DHL Group). The others fail to report on either the size of their entire vehicle fleet, the specific number of electric vehicles, or both. Companies often also did not provide these figures in dedicated reports or data files, but rather published them in press releases, website articles or communications to media outlets.
It is also glaringly obvious that companies’ reliance on carbon offsetting to achieve net zero emissions targets is insufficient, as the sheer size of their emissions implies that offsetting realistically could only compensate for a relatively small portion of their emissions.
Meanwhile the extensive use of subcontracting in the global delivery sector raises questions as to how companies will achieve their sustainability goals both in their own operations and in outsourced activities, and to what extent they will support these subcontractors to transition to zero emissions.
Where Do We Go From Here?
The last miles of the e-commerce supply chain contribute greatly to the fossil fuel pollution and other impacts that people experience every day, with Black Indigenous People of Colour (BIPOC) and lower income neighborhoods disproportionately affected. Fast growing e-commerce supply chains running on fossil fuels are driving significant climate and local pollution. It’s time these companies take substantial action to change that.
Cities can also play a leading role in accelerating the last-mile emissions reduction efforts of e-commerce companies. Local governments can introduce local policies and regulations, facilitate more sustainable solutions, and engage with key players (such as community members and companies) to address air pollution and congestion issues. Place-based interventions are essential complements to the measures taken by companies themselves, such as electrifying fleets, using smaller delivery vehicles and other modes of transport to move goods (such as e-cargo bikes). It is therefore crucial that local authorities, in collaboration with local stakeholders, take up a leading role in addressing the negative environmental impacts of last-mile deliveries.
We believe that an international strategy targeting companies such as those above can move them to set better commitments. The huge companies that are the biggest part of the problem are everywhere, that’s why we must be everywhere too. A people-centred economy can prioritise mobility that advances the health and wellbeing of our communities. Our cities will have clean air, safe transport and companies that are accountable for their impact. Together we will make sure streets are for people, not pollution.
1 FreightWaves (2020). Final Mile Report. Retrieved from https://www.freightwaves.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/Final-mile-whitepaper.pdf
2 Walmart’s ambitions appear to cover the entire company group, including subsidiaries such as Flipkart, in which Walmart has a controlling stake. Flipkart itself, however, has not communicated about a company-wide zero emissions goal or any other emissions target.