Clean Tech

How Amazon India is going green, one box at a time

Dakshiani Palicha | Updated on July 28, 2020 Published on July 28, 2020

The e-commerce giant's sustainabilty quotient got a boost recently, when it announced 100% elimination of single-use plastic in packaging

The joy of receiving a package you ordered online is well-known. You can hardly wait to tear open the cardboard box, rip off the inner plastic cover, and put your new belonging to use — often without a second look at the small mountain of waste left behind.

To be fair, this scenario is changing, with people becoming more conscious about the impact on the environment of the things they buy and use. And when consumers are ‘going green’, how can businesses be far behind?

In a significant development, e-commerce giant Amazon India recently announced that it has “completely eliminated the use of single-use plastic in packaging” across its 50-plus fulfilment centres here. The company had pledged, in September last year, to replace single-use plastic by June 2020. This was done by replacing the plastic dunnage — air pouches and bubble wrap placed inside packages — with recyclable ‘paper cushions.’

“We also introduced 100 per cent plastic-free and biodegradable paper tape earlier this year, which is used to seal and secure customer shipments. Additionally, we have replaced thin cling films for customer deliveries, among other material, with packaging options that are not single-use plastic in nature,” Prakash Kumar Dutta, Director, Customer Fulfilment and Supply Chain, Amazon India, told BusinessLine in an email interaction.

That an e-commerce giant like Amazon India has made this move is crucial. Online marketplaces have for long been criticised for poor environmental practices, particularly for generating a large volume of non-biodegradable waste with packaging. A 2019 study by Un-Plastic Collective noted that India generates 9.46 million tonnes of plastic waste each year. Of this, 43 per cent comes from packaging, most of which is single-use plastic.

In 2019, India had set an ambitious target of eliminating single-use plastic by 2022.

Customer-oriented approach

There are two aspects driving Amazon’s sustainability quotient — customer feedback and global environmental policies.

“As a customer-obsessed company, our core focus is to elevate our customer experience. We constantly leverage our technology and resources to ensure that we do not compromise on this experience. Our customer-first approach and sustainability-driven business practices enable us to build initiatives which are good for people, good for the planet and good for the business,” said Dutta.

According to him, over the years Amazon teams have paid attention to customer feedback about packaging and have worked hard to develop new and innovative solutions to address their concerns and meet sustainability goals.

Apart from the elimination of single-use plastic, Amazon’s ‘India First’ initiatives include ‘Packaging-Free Shipment’ (PFS), in which orders are delivered in reusable totes. From nine cities in June 2019, PFS has been expanded to 100 cities across India in June 2020. With this, “more than 40 per cent of the Amazon customer orders shipped from our fulfilment centres are now packaging-free or have significantly reduced packaging…We will continue to scale PFS and other sustainable packaging initiatives while ensuring safe and secure deliveries of customer orders,” said Dutta.

Yet another area being explored is optimisation of the supply chain. Multiple orders from one customer are placed in one box. This not only helps reduce transportation and save on fuel, but also leads to fewer delivery runs — a welcome move in the post-Covid world.

Amazon is encouraged by the positive response received from customers. However, there is an opinion that more can be done.

“It obviously took a long time for Amazon to realise the need to bring sustainability into its process…But it’s a start. Only if the big players take initiative, there will be widespread change,” said Sruthi Bhat, a long-time Amazon consumer.

Gautham Raghuraman, another frequent customer, said: “The plastic packing material we usually get is not even reusable. We just tear the paper and be done with it. So, if the package is made a little more oriented for reusing, it will be better.”

Climate pledge

As part of its global efforts, Amazon, in 2019, co-founded The Climate Pledge, aimed towards being net zero carbon by 2040 — 10 years ahead of the goal set by the Paris Climate Agreement. In June this year, the Pledge added companies like Verizon, Infosys, and Reckitt Benckiser.

To meet the net zero carbon goal, Amazon India has been particularly focussed on optimisation of processes. This includes a commitment to add 10,000 electric vehicles to its fleet and powering of fulfilment centres (10 so far) with solar energy and systems to reduce carbon emissions. In the long term, said Dutta, Amazon is looking towards global infrastructure that is 100 per cent powered by renewable energy.

In addition, the company has been promoting water conservation practices, generating awareness, working with authorities to restore water bodies.

It has partnered with Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike and not-for-profit organisation United Way Bengaluru to open a sewage treatment plant at the Mahadevpura Lake.

“With goals as laid out by Amazon globally, and with The Climate Pledge, we are confident of operating as a business that is energy-efficient and environmentally responsible,” Dutta said.

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Published on July 28, 2020
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