Amazon carbon emissions up 40% but somehow still on track for "net zero" by 2040

Amazon just released its 2021 Sustainability Report, in which Kara Hurst, the company's VP of Worldwide Sustainability, boasts:

As part of our efforts to decarbonize our business, we became the world's largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy in 2020, and last year, we reached 85% renewable energy across our business. We continue to expand our use of zero-emission transportation such as electric delivery vans, cargo bikes, and on-foot deliveries, and in 2021, more than 100 million packages were delivered to our customers' doorsteps globally using zero-emission vehicles. We are also investing in nature-based solutions, and last year, we helped to create the Lowering Emissions by Accelerating Forest finance (LEAF) Coalition—a global initiative of governments and leading companies that has already mobilized $1 billion to protect the world's tropical rainforests. We will continue to act boldly to address climate change and to invest in solutions to help meet our commitment to reach net-zero carbon across our operations by 2040.

Amazon had announced its Climate Pledge in 2019, which included plans to reach net-zero emissions by 2040. Based on Hurst's opening letter, the company is well on track and looking good to do some good for the planet! Throughout the Sustainability Report, the company reiterates that they are "on path" towards their 2025 targets, and have reduced emissions from deforestation, and all kinds of other nice-sounding accolades. On page 10, however, the company also acknowledges that:

With all of our growth in 2021, our absolute carbon emissions increased by 18% in 2021.

From 2020 to 2021, the company also increased their absolute carbon emissions— with a total growth of 40 percent over just two years.

Of course, upon printing this news, the company report immediately downplayed it as well (emphasis added):

Importantly, our carbon intensity decreased by 1.9%—this is the third year in a row we've seen our carbon intensity decrease. This measurement quantifies total carbon emissions, in grams of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e), per dollar of gross merchandise sales (GMS). As companies invest in new products and services, and their businesses grow substantially, the focus should not be solely on a company's carbon footprint in terms of absolute carbon emissions, but also on whether it's lowering its carbon intensity. Over time, continued decreases in carbon intensity can lead to lower absolute emissions.

In other words, their carbon emissions decreased if you compare their carbon emissions to their gross profits. Even if you ignore the fact that most carbon offsets are actually bullshit anyway, that still means that — by the company's own accounting metrics — Amazon could arguably achieve "net zero" carbon intensity while still cranking out millions and millions tons of non-offset carbon ever year. Neat!!1

(There's also the fact that Amazon's carbon accounting doesn't factor in the emissions resulting from the manufacturing process, not even for its own house-branded products, but that's a topic for another time.)

Amazon's climate pollution is getting way worse [Justine Calma / The Verge]

Delivering progress every day: Amazon's 2021 sustainability report [Amazon]