On Tuesday, Amazon released an 8,000-word press release chock-full of revelations about the company, including Jeff Bezos’ official resignation as chief executive office of the etail megalodon, his replacement by Amazon insider Andy Jassy, and record-breakingly lucrative year-end numbers. In 2020 Amazon’s annual revenue shot up 38% to a whopping $386 billion, which comes out to a yearly increase of over $100 billion. But 38% seems like a small number compared to the company’s net profit growth, which increased a stunning 84% from 2019 to 2020. Amazon is on track for world domination. And while the company faces serious antitrust charges from the European Union as well as antitrust probes from this side of the Atlantic, the $1.7 trillion company is charging full steam ahead. In fact, projections for the first quarter of 2021 are predicting a further 30 to 40% boost for the company’s revenue. And as Amazon continues to consolidate and dominate markets around the world and post bigger and bigger profit margins, they are undoubtedly eating up more and more resources. But while Amazon is quick to publish all kinds of information about its economic growth, the company is extremely cagey about its ecological footprint.
In the Big Tech world, where ESG (environmental, social, and governance) tends to be a mainstream investment focus instead of a fringe trend, it’s standard operating procedure for a company to publish annual reports providing detailed information about their carbon emissions, electricity use, and total energy consumption. Alphabet does it. Apple does it. Facebook does it. Microsoft does it. Amazon, not so much. Despite Jeff Bezos’ somewhat underwhelming attempts to paint himself as an environmental justice warrior (in his resignation announcement, the ex-CEO–and richest man on Earth–cited a desire to spend more time on side projects including the Bezos Earth Fund), Amazon’s near-total silence on their own energy use paints a much clearer picture of the company’s priorities.
The stark lack of information about the company’s energy consumption is particularly marked because Amazon is not quiet about other aspects of their environmental impact (particularly when it stands to make for good PR). the company has been pressured into releasing some less-than-stellar numbers about their ecological footprint in the past, however, that hint at the enormity of the company’s energy consumption.
“For years, Amazon has been coy about its energy use and emissions,” Forbes reported this week. “In 2019, amid rising pressure from its employees, the company finally revealed its carbon-dioxide emissions, which totaled about 44.4 million tons in 2018. Last June, the company reported that its emissions jumped by 15% over the prior year to about 51.1 million tons.” As Forbes points out, this puts Amazon in the company of oil giants and other infamously emissions-heavy ventures.
Not that this should come as any huge surprise. Data centers are infamously ravenous for energy and Amazon’s fleet of delivery trucks and over 80 cargo jets are putting in some major mileage to make sure you get your electric tea kettle, phone case, and cat toys in record time.
When Forbes reached out to Amazon about its deliberately obfuscated energy use, company spokesperson Luis Davila credited Amazonian exceptionalism, suggesting that Amazon is just too complex and special to be able to provide that kind of information before deflecting with promises of carbon neutrality by 2040.
Yes, Amazon is just one company and energy use is just one metric. But they’re also the biggest company in the world, and in the era of fast-approaching catastrophic climate change, transparency and accountability have more importance and gravity than ever. While world leaders are finally beginning to fall in line with a global clean energy transition, the private sector is all over the map. It’s critically important to take a closer look at world-leading and -shaping companies like Amazon and ask questions about greenwashing versus genuinely responsible business practices. And that starts with making issues like energy usage public knowledge.