Tuesday, September 14, 2010

What can change the way Amazon is dealing with environmental issues? Lessons from the Green Grades report and a NYT article

Last week Dogwood Alliance and ForestEthics published the 2010 Green Grades Office Supply Report Card. The goal of this report is to inform "American consumers and large purchasers of paper products on what companies are doing—or not doing—to safeguard the environment and the world’s forests."

This report is very important and reader-friendly and I warmly recommend to read it. But today we'll focus on just one of the companies presented in the report, which is a significant player in the book member. Yes, we're talking about Amazon.com.

So how Amazon.com did on the report? See for yourself:

As you can see, Amazon got the lowest grade in the mass market retail sector. Just to give you a perspective - Amazon got the lowest grade not just in its category but in the whole report. What's behind these Amazon's grade?

The report explains in further details:

Amazon.com does not have a meaningful paper policy or other basic safeguards and goals. Indeed, the company appears to have no problem with buying and selling paper from Endangered Forests and other controversial sources, including in the US South. Some Amazon.com subsidiaries are also using the SFI greenwash logo on their paper-based packaging, and Amazon.com has publicly expressed support for the SFI.

If you're wondering how Amazon did last year on the 2009 report - well, there are no big surprises - the company got an F. One change from last year, except of the slight better grade, is that last year it was reported that "The giant online retailer ignored our survey, so questions remain about their paper sourcing practices." This year there was no mention of such behavior, so I can only assume that Amazon did cooperate this year.

Amazon's grade doesn't come as a surprise to anyone who is watching Amazon's behavior when it comes to environmental issues, whether it's is paper policy or transparency regarding the Kindle's carbon footprint. In all, the company doesn't really care much about these issues.

So it got me wondering - what can possibly change the way Amazon.com is dealing with environmental issues? What can make Amazon care about it? And only couple of days passed by before I got a hint from a New York Times article.

The article (Packaging Is All the Rage, and Not in a Good Way) was about how Amazon is trying to get manufacturers to make packages easier to open, hoping to reduce consumer “wrap rage.” It was very interesting as I learned from the article that Amazon is trying to promote packaging solutions that have environmental benefits (for example, using less packaging materials). How come? Very simple - it wasn't about the environment at all.

There are two reasons Amazon was promoting alternative packaging solutions (frustration-free packaging options) to the products it sells. The first one is that they receive a lot of complains from customers on the current packaging, where "“you’ve got a ton of packaging and a ton of work ahead of you". Customers simple hate it and find it unjustified, so they write their complains to Amazon. And Amazon doesn't like customers that are not happy, even if it's not its fault as the manufacturers are the ones responsible for the products' packaging.

The second one is because “it’s such a win-win proposal,” as Nadia Shouraboura, vice president for global fulfillment at Amazon explained in the article. And again, he didn't refer to the environmental benefits - he referred to the facts that these packages that are more user-friendly (it's easier to open them) and actually cost less to the manufacturers.

So what do we have here? simply a combination of two elements - customers that care and aren't satisfied with the current way things are done and win-win solutions. Is it enough for Amazon to generate "green" solutions? The beauty here, as well as in other cases, that "green" is embedded in these solutions - you talk about saving materials or more efficient packaging and you're actually talking about green solutions, just without mentioning the word "green".

So the bottom line is that maybe we don't need to look on ideas how to make Jeff Bezos and other Amazon's executives more empathetic to environmental issues - it may take forever. Maybe the shorter and better way is to motivate Amazon's customers to act and voice their concerns and also come up with win-win solutions for Amazon. Then you might see suddenly how Amazon's executives start looking for alternatives with environmental added value. Otherwise don't be surprised if next year the company that will receive the lowest grade in the Green Grades report will be again no other than Amazon.com.

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Plant a tree for every book you read!