With the holidays around the corner, you are likely starting to think about ways to appreciate friends and family by giving them a gift. Like many Americans—if you choose to purchase gifts—you are likely to buy some online. Consumer surveys indicate 46 percent of Americans plan to shop online this year. Amazon.com is the world’s largest retailer and is synonymous with online shopping. Over 40 percent of online shoppers in the U.S. turn to Amazon as their first stop.
Last year, we dug into the company’s record on environmental and social responsibility and found Amazon.com to be performing poorly across the board–from dirty energy to worker exploitation.
With Amazon’s most important time of the year for sales on the horizon, we’re taking another look at Amazon’s sustainability practices and have also updated our popular Alternatives to Amazon Guide to Online Shopping. Choosing to spend money wisely, in ways that support our value, can have a major impact. This year, if you are shopping online, consider one of these alternatives.
Amazon Alternatives Holiday Shopping Guide
Amazon’s 2015 Sustainability Report Card:
Amazon uses huge amounts of electricity and most of the company’s energy comes from coal-fired power plants. In 2015, in response to mounting public pressure, including our Build A Cleaner Cloud campaign, Amazon’s hosting company, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced it would invest in both solar and wind energy projects. As these projects come online, AWS will be able to use greater amounts of renewable energy to power its massive network of data centers, which currently run on a steady diet of mostly fossil fuels.
The company has committed to move to 100% renewable energy, however, it has yet to announce a deadline for this goal. Amazon is also still stalling in terms of transparency, refusing to report its energy usage to the Carbon Disclosure Project
The New York Times’ explosive expose on Amazon’s white-collar workers revealed that while employees at Amazon’s Headquarters may earn a great deal, they are often subjected to a ruthless working environment. Current and former employees conveyed tales of working for four days without sleeping, developing ulcers from stress, never seeing their families, even being fired for having cancer or a miscarriage and needing time to recover.
Beyond the individuals working at Amazon’s HQ in Seattle, a massive global network of people support Amazon’s operations around the word as contractors and temporary workers. Workers in Amazon’s “Fulfillment Centers” (warehouses) have been found to work non-stop on their feet in non-air conditioned buildings. These same workers are now being forced to sign 18-month non-compete agreements, which prevent them from finding other similar work, should they be let go. The author Simon Head concluded when it comes to labor practices, “Amazon is worse than Walmart.”
Like many corporate behemoths, Amazon has a history of shielding profits overseas, and for years, it fought against charging sales tax on its products. These are just two ways that the Amazon has benefited against brick and mortar companies and small businesses. Just last week, after years of under-cutting the prices of independent, local book stores and driving many out of business, Amazon announced its first ever brick-and-mortar bookstore in Seattle. This may seem like an odd move for an online company, but then again, as the movement for buying local is growing in the US, and as Amazon faces much less competition in the bookstore business thanks to its own success at selling books online, it’s actually a no-brainer. The Huffington Post shares more about Amazon’s ironic move and its history of undercutting other business.
The shift away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy continues. Last week Citigroup, the parent company of Citibank, committed to cut financing for coal mining. In the same week, one of Australia’s biggest banks – ANZ – pledged not to finance traditional coal mining projects and to provide at least $10bn in funding for renewable energy, reforestation and energy efficiency.
In May, Bank of America started the trend with their announcement to drop funding of coal mining, and Crédit Agricole closely followed with the same.
This shift is thanks to the work of everyone building a clean energy industry and pushing money away from destructive, polluting fuels.
You too can make the shift from fossil fuels in your investments to clean, renewable energy. Here is a list of investment products that are free from fossil fuels.
We’re calling on consumers to choose chocolate for visiting goblins and witches that supports cocoa farmers and their families! That means buying from a chocolate company that has a direct and long-term relationship with the farmers it purchases from.
Along with our partner, the International Labor Rights Forum, we’ve developed an informational card which can be printed and handed out along with the treats, so you can help spread the word about the injustices of the cocoa sector!
How it works:
1. Download our quarter-page flyer and print out as many as you like for your trick-or-treaters
2. Order or buy direct trade or fair trade chocolate minis*
3. Attach 1 mini to each card with double sided tape or non-toxic glue
4. Share with your visitors and their parents
Over 70% of the world’s cocoa comes from West Africa, where cocoa farming families, with an average of 6 people, live on roughly just $2 per day. As a result, over 2 million children are relied on to harvest the cocoa crop each year. For years, Green Americans have campaigned to put an end to hazardous child labor in the cocoa fields.
The good news is that consumer pressure works. Major chocolate companies have started to take action to address the problems in their supply chains. The bad news is that many of the company solutions are too small and slow to really fix the problem.
We need to keep up the pressure on companies, and in the meantime we need to support the chocolate companies that are doing it right.
*Where to find Better Chocolate:
- Equal Exchange offers milk and dark chocolate fair trade minis
- Divine Chocolate offers 1.4 oz fair trade snack bars
Support cocoa farmers this year by choosing better chocolate for your trick-or-treaters. Download our informational cards now!
Guest post from Alexandra Beane, Wheels For Wishes
The United States is the world’s largest consumer of bottled water. In 2011, the United States set a record for purchasing 9.1 billion gallons of bottled water nationwide, which is equal to 29.2 gallons per person. Unfortunately, only 27 percent of plastic water bottles are recycled in the United States, and they are 100 percent recyclable. Each year, 35 billion plastic water bottles are thrown in the trash in the United States alone. The total carbon footprint of one 500 ml (16.9 oz) bottle of water is 828g of carbon dioxide. Water transported from overseas can have an even higher footprint! Fiji water travels up to 5,000 miles to reach San Francisco, and French brands travel up to 6,200 miles to get there.
Choosing to drink from reusable water bottles instead of plastic water bottles is a small change that can make a huge difference for the environment, and it also saves you money in the long run. Bottled water can be up to 500 times more expensive as tap water, so you’d save plenty of money if you switched to a BPA-free reusable water bottle.
Even if you can’t do everything possible to reduce your carbon footprint, drinking local is a good place to start. Other ways to make a difference are to cut back on showers or reduce the amount of time you spend in the shower, and don’t let the water run while you’re brushing your teeth.
Instead of driving everywhere, walk, carpool, bike, or use public transportation whenever possible. Each and every little change you make will help to reduce your carbon footprint.
Solar Energy Is on the Rise!
The solar energy industry in the United States is exploding! According to the Solar Energy Industry Association (SEIA), the number of solar installations grew by 34% in 2014. Residential installations accounted for a large part of that growth, increasing by 51% from 2013 to 2014. 2015 is growing at even higher rates. SEIA’s research shows that in the first quarter of 2015, the amount of installed solar power in the U.S. grew by 76% as compared to the first quarter in 2014, and the second quarter of 2015 set a new record for residential rooftop solar installations in particular, a category that saw 70 percent year-over-year growth.
What Is Driving All the Demand for Solar?
Prices for solar energy systems have fallen over 80% in the last five years alone! When combined with attractive federal and local incentives, the financial benefits of going solar a quite staggering! In many parts of the country, homeowners are enjoying a five to seven year payback on a solar energy system investment – driven by the electricity cost savings and other incentives for solar energy production. To put that into finance terms, that represents a 14% to 20% annual return on your money! Hard to beat! (See how much solar can save you!)
For those who would rather not shell out the cash for a solar system, a bunch of attractive financing solutions have emerged that allow homeowners to go solar with no money down and still enjoy significant financial savings! These financing arrangements – ranging from zero down loans to leases or power purchase agreements (PPAs) – make solar much more affordable and have helped over 70% of the nearly 650,000 solar customers to go solar on a budget. (Learn more about solar financing options)
Solar Helps the Economy Too!
The increase in demand for solar has also had a very positive impact on our economy by creating jobs! In many cases, these are high paying jobs, including sales, marketing, engineering and management positions. In its most recent survey from 2014, The Solar Foundation (TSF) estimated that the US solar industry employed nearly 175,000 people, over double what it was in 2010! According to Fortune Magazine, the solar industry now employs more people than coal mining! You can help contribute to the solar wave and protect our planet by going solar today!
For more than 30 years, Green America has worked to expose social and environmental injustices that occur around the world, especially along the supply chains of products American consumers enjoy, like electronics, clothing, chocolate, and other food.
Our work is often possible because of committed individuals on the ground, working to shed light on some of the worst human rights abuses—such as the forced labor and human trafficking that has been happening for years in Thailand’s seafood sector.
Andy Hall, a human rights researcher and activist based in Bangkok, has worked to shed light not only on the seafood sector, but also the fruit industry in Thailand. His reporting on Natural Fruit, a pineapple processing company, uncovered serious labor right abuses including use of child labor, unlawfully low wages, confiscation of workers’ official documents, excessive overtime and poor conditions. It also resulted in Andy’s being charged with defamation by the company under investigation. In Thailand, defamation is a criminal offense, meaning that Andy is facing jail time for blowing the whistle on a company that was breaking the law.
Andy’s case was already tried once and he won. However, the Attorney General in Thailand appealed the case and Andy is once again going to trial on October 19th 2015. If he is found guilty he could be imprisoned for seven years.
Today, Green America and our allies presented a letter to the Thai Embassy in DC, in support of Andy Hall and all whistle blowers. The letter was signed by 44 international organizations, and we presented it with the International Labor Rights Forum, Greenpeace, Humanity United, and the Child Labor Coalition.
You can read the full letter here.
by Beth Porter, Better Paper Project Director
Hundreds of cities and towns across the country now offer big blue bins for recycling, about the size of large trash cans, to be collected weekly. While the increase in size is a great reflection of how eager people are to recycle, some problems can arise when that big blue bin is filled with incorrect items…
The Washington Post reported that recycling was once a profitable business for cities, not to mention the environmental benefits. However, recently those profits have vastly decreased to the point where now many counties are contributing up to millions of dollars each year to maintain operation of recycling facilities. Why the change? There are a few international reasons, including:
- Falling oil prices – oil is a key ingredient in new plastic and is now cheaper to make than to recycle.
- A stronger dollar – which means US businesses are less incentivized to be thrifty.
- And a weakened economy in China – our largest buyer of recycled materials.These have caused a direct nosedive in the value for American recyclables.More local challenges point right back to the first phase of consumer recycling – the big blue bin.
The answer to how to incentivize people to recycle seemed perfectly obvious – make recycling easier. Duplicate the process of tossing a can in the trash, but just toss it into a bin with all sorts of other recyclable items – paper mixed with glass mixed with old plastic bottles. The increase in technology available to facilities gave the appearance that companies could recycle everything at once, a process referred to as single-stream recycling. Single-stream is great in theory, but in practice has shown problems with contamination. Glass can more easily be broken on the conveyor belts, and being comingled with the other recyclables, can contaminate paper bales and plastic with shards of glass.
With the introduction of the big blue bin and single-stream recycling, people in many cities are increasing the volume and size of items they attempt to recycle. These good intentions can lead to trying out a variety of items in the bins…including old garden hoses, shopping bags, Christmas lights, and even shoes. Needless to say, these items are not recyclable. When unfit items are put into the blue bins the cost of the entire recycling process goes up, including transportation and time spent sorting and re-routing these incorrect items to their actual end point (the trash incinerator or landfill).
Waste management facilities want to appease their customers but at the end of the day, will do what produces a profit.
They will not remain in the recycling industry if profits continue to be low or nonexistent. The very first way to reverse the recent problems? Make the most of your big blue bin.
In just a few steps, you can be certain that your items are truly recyclable and being sent to the right facility…check out these steps below and share with your friends and family to help continue the positive influence of the big blue bin!
- Don’t grab that bag…
Putting your recyclables into a bag before sending them to the big blue bin might seem easier, but every bag has to be opened by the recyclers…that time crunch often ends in the bag being tossed in the trash pile.
Instead: Try carrying them out to the bin in a box that you can easily break down and add to the bin after!
- Play the sorting game
See if your city has nearby drop off locations for glass and paper (these are the most vulnerable to being ruined in the blue bins!) and adapt your at home recycling area to keep paper in its own container – better paper means arriving to be recycled…not ripped up or covered in water!
- Check up on your city’s rules
What might seem ready for the bin doesn’t always match with what your city has the capacity to recycle. On the other hand, you might be surprised at things you thought weren’t okay, but that your city is actually eager to recycle!
Click here to look up your area’s rules of recycling and keep the big blue bin full of approved items: http://www.wm.com/thinkgreen/what-can-i-recycle.jsp
Sarah’s (aka the Bee Girl) fascination with bees started at a young age, thanks to a beekeeper keeping hives on her aunt’s small farm; little did she know it would turn into a deep affinity for bees and bee health. Her childhood fascination for bees has turned into a nonprofit organization dedicated to altering our perspective and interactions with bees while addressing big picture issues. Her deep passion for bees grew after starting college at the University of Montana and volunteering with the honey bee program. Two mentors greatly influenced her and showed her that her love for bees could turn into so much more, that there is this deep and fascinating complexity to the life and the relationships that exist within it. But it didn’t stop there. Sarah began to see the complexities and impact on honey bee health caused by outside influences. Then came Bee Girl, a non-profit with a mission dedicated to inspire and empower communities to conserve bees and their habitat.
Over the last five years Sarah has seen a transition in the public perception of bees. When Sarah started the Bee Girl organization, conversations were filled with the threat of bees. People’s perceptions were that bees are nasty little insects solely out to sting them. But this has changed and people and communities are starting to embrace the amazing creatures that they really are. People are starting to open their eyes to the importance of bees for our environment and food system, but also the magic inherit to them. It is so important that the perception around honey bees is changing because it is part of a larger systematic shift that needs to happen. As Sarah put it, “there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way we eat food.”
What most consumers might not know is that there is a great amount of effort that goes into pollinating our food system. Beekeepers truck their bees from crop to crop throughout the country. Sarah describes it as, “this constant migration of nomadic beekeepers, they are providing the pollination service that ultimately ends up being one out of every three bites on our plate.” Often times commercial beekeepers are portrayed as not caring about their bees, as just another part of the flawed industrial system. Sarah rather sees them as the unsung heroes. Just like any other farmer, they care deeply about these little creatures and work extremely hard to make sure that our food is pollinated and their bees are healthy.
But this paradigm shift can’t just stop with the food that we eat but must expand to agricultural practices as a whole. Sarah sees divestment from ethanol as essential to sustaining our pollinators and our food system. Much of our natural prairies have been transitioned to cornfields for the sole purpose of growing corn for ethanol. This represents millions of acres of habitat loss not only for bees and other pollinators but also amphibians, songbirds, and other wildlife. This also has an impact on bee health of which one might not naturally think.
The Midwestern states are home to 5 of the 10 top honey-producing states. Beekeepers bring their bees to this region for a sort of vacation after a long pollinating season, allowing them to refresh in the natural prairies and wild lands filled with wildflowers. The loss of these lands devastatingly impacts honey bees’ ability to remain healthy and to successfully pollinate our food. It is a reminder that bees are not all that different from us, after a season of hard work, they need rest. Protecting pollinator health goes beyond planting flowers and requires that we look at the big picture and systems, and then readdress those systems. It is essential that we protect and conserve the land not just for bees but for so many species. Part of this is putting an end to destructive practices such as clearing land for ethanol, something that is input intensive and takes away resources from food crops. This crop could be replaced with grass-fed beef, oil seed crops, or other high-value commodities that are beneficial to the farmer, bees, human health, and the surrounding eco and economic ecosystems. The more we all learn about the importance of bees and their relationship to our environment, the greater understanding we have of the key ecosystem services that they provide, and the importance of protecting them and their native habitats.
Interested in pollinator health but not ready to start your own hive? In Sarah’s own words, here are three ways to help protect bees:
Beekeeping is not easy; you can’t just throw a hive in your backyard. Beekeeping is hard and really complicated, but also amazing and rewarding. Being a beekeeper means taking care of a whole herd of tiny of animals. You can’t just leave them there to fend for themselves. They need love, water, food, and medicine when they are sick. If you are interested in starting a hive make sure to find a community of beekeepers who can mentor you through the process.
- Plant flowers: That is something that everyone can do and it is fun and positive and a way to feed bees and connect to your front porch, your backyard, or your school or community. You can plant flowers on any scale; it can be a handful of seeds in a pot outside your window or acres upon acres you plant on a golf course or ranch.
- Educate Yourself: I encourage people to think beyond organic. If you see the organic symbol on a package at the store it might be managed in a way that’s good for bees but it might not. There are still pesticides that are used in organic agriculture. Just because it is organic doesn’t mean it is pesticide-free. I think one of the most important things you can do is vote with your fork, but make it an educated vote. Choose your food that has been grown sustainably. Shake the hand that feeds you. Go to the farmers market and ask farmers what they do for bee health. Sometimes just opening that conversation can inspire them to be a little bit more bee-friendly. Also, understanding how to value our food, I don’t know how we got on the track that food needed to be cheap. There is just this weird across-the-board social norm in this country that food has to be cheap. Food shouldn’t be cheap. There are people behind that food, people who are working really hard to make the most delicious and nutritious food possible. There are so many people behind those bites of food that you are eating; expecting to pay 99 cents for a hamburger is ludicrous. We need to start valuing our food better.
- Support pasture-raised anything and everything: The more pasture-raised poultry, pork, and beef that we have out there the less corn feed that is needed leading to divestment from corn and habitat destruction. It also leads to more green space out there. Green space is good because you can usually interplant it with flowers that are great for bees, and nutricous for other livestock, as well. Green space is also good because it sequesters carbon which is important because climate change hurts bees.
By Kegan Gerard
In the few short weeks following the launch of our Amazon: Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, two huge renewable energy investments have been announced from the company.
In June, Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced that it planned to the development of an 80 megawatt (MW) solar facility in Virginia, calling it Amazon Solar Farm US East.
Then in July AWS revealed plans for a 208 MW wind farm in North Carolina, called the Amazon Wind Farm US East. Current roadmaps show that the Amazon Wind Farm US East — the first utility-scale wind installation in NC — aims to be operational by December 2016.
Amazon Web Services’ US East division has historically been one of its most polluting operations, with only 6 percent of its operations being fueled by clean energy according the Clicking Clean report, released by Greenpeace earlier this year.
The flood of support from Green America members has shown Amazon’s chief executive, Jeff Bezos, that the company must commit to renewable energy and be transparent in its transition to a clean energy future, if it wants to keep the support of their customers — companies like Netflix, Change.org, Tumblr, and hundreds more.
So far, over 26,000 of you have signed on to tell Amazon to take action, and to stop keeping its customers in the dark — but there is still more work to be done.
There is a global spotlight on renewable energy right now as the world ramps up to the December climate talks in Paris. Any success we hope to achieve there must begin at home. We have the power to help shape businesses here at home, and those businesses have the power to shape the future or energy consumption.
Help us make this happen. Sign on to our Build a Cleaner Cloud campaign, share it with your friends, and together we’ll see the largest cloud computing provider commit to a healthy, renewable future for all of us.
How Obama’s new plan to cut carbon emissions represents an important step in cutting energy costs and pollution while saving lives
While groups on both sides of the aisle criticize the plan — some saying it does too little and others opposing the principle entirely — it’s going to boost the green economy, save lives, and cut costs. If the plan that President Obama calls the “single most important step that America has ever made in the fight against global climate change” sounds almost too good to be true, hear us out. While more is needed to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change, the plan represents the first US limits on carbon pollution from power plants — the largest source of climate-changing pollution in the United States.
The main goal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP) is to reduce the amount of carbon pollution emitted by power plants. According to the EPA, power plants account for nearly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
As we know by now, this excess carbon dioxide pollution contributes to climate change and a whole host of public health issues, so the CPP set out to tackle emissions at their source.
It accomplishes this by setting goals for CO2 emissions reduction in 47 states, totaling a collective 32 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 when compared to 2005 levels.
Why only 47 states? Each of the reduction goals is tailored to the unique situation in each individual state.
Two out of the missing three, Alaska and Hawaii, were left out of the plan because the EPA doesn’t yet have enough data to set appropriate goals for them, though this is reportedly being addressed. Vermont (and D.C. for that matter) don’t have significant enough CO2 contributions from power plants and were consequently left out of the ruling.
In structuring it so that each state is responsible for establishing a unique plan, the EPA created a flexible CPP that is responsive to the needs of the state’s businesses and communities. Additionally, states have the option to work with other states, developing multi-state plans to help one another through the transition to a greener economy.
Most of this transition is going to entail a move away from coal, and towards renewables, nuclear, and natural gas. While this means that the CPP won’t lead to the ideal, fossil-free future we need, it is a significant step in the right direction.
This ruling isn’t just significant for its symbolic nature, rather there are very real economic implications.
The EPA estimates that the reductions associated with the Clean Power Plan will lead to $20 billion in climate benefits, $14-$34 billion in health benefits, and $26-$45 in net benefits.
Additionally, nearly 300,000 missed school and work days are expected to be avoided because of the plan. By cutting down on polluting coal plants, you decrease the amount of toxins in the air, while also reducing climate-change related health problems.
The 3,600 premature deaths expected to be saved as a result of the plan should not and can not be put second to politics and short-term economic growth.
Fortunately, decreasing days of productivity isn’t the only long-term economic benefit of a greener energy future. A recent report by energy research firm Synapse energy Economics found that a clean energy future scenario would lead to energy bills $35 lower per month in 2030, compared to a business-as-usual scenario.
Lowering energy bills, reducing healthcare burdens, and boosting productivity. Three things that anyone in their right mind would champion in a heartbeat. Why then do people shudder when this is attached to environmental policy?
Raising controversy over the issue could inevitably come back to bite those opposing the bill. The Clean Power Plan is here, whether they like it or not.
Talking about the plan is only going to ramp up interest in climate talks, and a major development like this is likely to propel greater progress in Paris later this year.