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Sustainability is a mindset. A company has to commit to sustainability, until it becomes a habit and a guiding principle. In recent years, Amazon has taken this bold idea to heart and have made great strides in pushing for sustainability. It achieved this with a top-down approach emphasizing that sustainability is the key to their future growth.

Amazon’s Sustainability Timeline

In 2014, Amazon hired Kara Hurst, former CEO of the Sustainability Consortium. She is now Amazon’s director of worldwide sustainability and social responsibility. Under her lead, the company launched the Amazon Sustainability Question Bank, which provides in-depth answers to questions about Amazon’s status and directions regarding sustainability. This is a step forward in creating transparency and responsibility for the company. The question bank also serves as a feedback mechanism on how can improve on its efforts.

In August 2015, Christine Bader was brought onboard as the director of social responsibility. She had previously worked with BP and is the author of “A Manifesto for the Corporate Idealist” (PDF). She is also a Lecturer at Columbia University and co-teaches a course on Human Rights and Business.

In December 2015, Christina Page was also hired. She had previously led the energy and sustainability strategy at Yahoo, where her work put emphasis on data centers, acknowledging that this was a big opportunity for sustainable energy. Yahoo implemented a different cooling center architecture called the Yahoo Computer Coop which used ambient air and had a Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.08.

Amazon also hired Dara O’Rourke as principal scientist on the Sustainable Science Team. He was a former professor of environmental and labor policy at the UC Berkeley and the co-founder of Good Guide.

Understanding the Problem of Sustainability

Amazon hired more than 50 people for its Sustainability Science group which also include: social responsibility; energy and environment; customer packaging experience; sustainability services; and sustainability technology.

The task has been huge. To understand the problems of sustainability for customer packaging, it has to be noted that the bulk of Amazon’s business is in ecommerce retail. In 2017, Amazon was the number one ecommerce retailer, with more than $94.665 billion in sales. This accounted for 70% of the company’s revenue. On the ranking, Apple was a distant second with $16.8 billion in ecommerce sales. To put Amazon’s sales into perspective, the company outsold all the rest of the top 50 online retailers combined.

To achieve that volume of sales, Amazon ships 3.3 million boxes of various sizes every day. The company makes an effort to ship the boxes sustainably, and have taken big steps in going further. Like most large retailers it uses recycled cardboard for its boxes. In a recent interview, Kara Hurst mentions that the products can be placed directly in a 100% recyclable cardboard box without any excess packaging waste. The company is also working on initiatives where the products would be sent without an overbox. Sending 3.3 million packages daily without an overbox could be initiative for their sustainability goals.

In other developments, Amazon has also made big steps in the quest for 100% renewable energy infrastructure. The company has recently launched their largest wind farm. Located in Texas, it contributes 1 million megawatts per hour. They also plan to install 50 solar rooftops on their fulfillment centers by 2020.

With all these initiatives and the internal infrastructure in place, Amazon is set to make great strides in sustainability and renewable energy self-sufficiency. This is a bold move that could set a trend for other global organizations.

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