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Amazon and Sustainability- An Ethical Take

By Muskaan Abichandani


Amazon is one of the largest technology companies in the world today. It has many global partnerships and has successfully established a strong brand image over time. However, such unprecedented growth has its own benefits and costs. From excessive packaging creating waste and delivery vans polluting the air, to seemingly harmless cloud computing technology that assists many fossil fuel companies in polluting the environment even more, Amazon is complicit in a number of activities that are harmful to the environment.

In this piece, I will try to review Amazon’s stance on climate change and analyse this from an ethical point of view.


WHAT AMAZON IS DOING?


Amazon is progressively working on becoming sustainable in many aspects of its business such as packaging, delivery, etc. The company had earlier promised to run all its activities on renewable energy by 2030 (BBC, 2019). ‘Shipping Zero’ was another initiative announced by Amazon in February 2018 with the aim of making 50% of its shipments carbon neutral by 2030 (Merchant, 2019). Importantly, Amazon was the first company to sign the ‘Climate Pledge’, committing to be net zero carbon by 2040. Finally, Amazon has invested $440 million in 100,000 electric vans ordered from the start-up firm Rivian, expecting them to be fully utilised by 2030. From this, one could say that Amazon has a strong pro-climate position and conducts its activities accordingly. However, Amazon, through its subsidiary, ‘Amazon Web Services’ (AWS), seems to contradict its own propositions by facilitating the companies in the fossil fuel production industry such as BP, Shell and GE Oil and Gas.


For instance, Amazon’s carbon footprint amounts to 44.40 million metric tonnes i.e. 128.9 g CO2e/$ (Amazon Sustainability, 2018). AWS has also fostered ties with Exxon and BP, both of which are amongst the top ten carbon emitters in the world (Taylor & Watts, 2019). Further, later this year, customers will be able to say, “Alexa, pay for gas” to easily purchase fuel at all 11,500 Exxon and Mobil stations. (Day One Staff, 2020). Employees pointed out that by facilitating necessary technological advancements to the businesses extracting fossil fuels, Amazon does no more than polluting the environment itself. It is evident from AWS’ website that the cloud computing advancements will stimulate the extraction of fossils and “optimise production and profitability” of Oil & Gas companies (AWS for Oil & Gas, 2020).

ETHICAL DILEMMA


Amazon can also be termed unethical when adopting the ‘Ecocentric approach’, a concept first introduced by Aldo Leopold in “The Land Ethic” where he presented the idea that the concept of community was vast and included all plants, animals and the land itself. The concept expands the idea of the moral community (and ethics) from being just about ourselves, and that of humanity to respecting and caring for all life, terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems (multiple editors, 2017). Amazon, by partnering with ExxonMobil and BP, and contributing to the production spurt has established its negligence in actively harming the environment.

Even when one takes a more orthodox approach to environmental ethics, such as Arne Naess’s theory of “deep ecology – a fight against pollution and depletion of resources” (Naess, 1973) where the concept of ‘self’ (self-realisation) is introduced, and expanded to link the human (or body) with nature such that when it comes to taking care of nature, one is in every essence taking care of oneself; Amazon fails the ethical test, and ethically speaking inflicts self-harm. Amazon, by supporting oil and gas companies is thwarting the efforts of scientists who are pushing countries to tackle climate change in desperate attempts to keep the carbon dioxide emissions low and the global temperature below 1.5 degrees (IPCC, 2018).


Further, when target-based virtue ethics are employed, Amazon can still be dubbed unethical. According to Christine Swanton, a complete account of virtue should map a) its field, b) its mode of responsiveness, c) its basis of moral acknowledgment, and d) its target” (Swanton, 2003). While the Amazon’s field and mode are fine, the fact that it holds about 32.3% of the cloud market share as compared to its contemporaries- Google, Microsoft and IBM, (McAllister, n.d.), gives AWS a great deal of power. Also, Amazon’s target is based on its claims to be helping ExxonMobil achieve its three core goals of improved efficiency, safety, and enhanced productivity (making sure field and wells are producing more hours per day and days per year). (Stone, 2020). So, even though Amazon has presumptuously tried to justify its relations, it has neglected its ethical and moral duty to the world. The question that arises here is what AWS can do to retribute, if not completely cut off ties from the said companies.


In conclusion, this piece shows that Amazon has been complicit in environmental degradation despite its promises to the contrary. It is therefore crucial that Amazon thoroughly considers solutions for the sake of restoring its brand image and customer loyalty.


Muskaan Abichandani is a first year B.Sc Economics and Management student at King’s College London. You can follow her on Instagram.


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Picture Courtesy available at: https://www.sec-ed.co.uk/best-practice/climate-change-strikes-ideas-for-how-schools-can-respond/

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