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In a video on the TED YouTube channel, Chris Roe, Amazon's director of energy and sustainable operations, makes a claim that Amazon is powered by 85% renewable energy. I suspect 85% is too optimistic a number.

When we started our journey, we were at 42 percent renewable energy in 2019. And fast forward to today, we're powered by 85 percent renewable energy across the world.

Is there any heuristic way to crosscheck this number?

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    Youtube can remove and change videos at any time, so I don't find video links to have much value on this site (not to mention the time wasted for anyone having to sit through it). The actual claim must be added to the question in some form that can be preserved.
    – pipe
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 10:53
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    The same claim is on Amazon's website with more details. I wonder what they're including in the denominator.
    – Laurel
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 13:46
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    Keep in mind that "renewable energy" doesn't simply mean wind and solar power; it includes sources such as hydo-electricty. For instance: Amazon expands in Quebec, opening 5 new facilities | CBC News is happening in a province where less than 5% of their electrical energry comes from non-renewable sources. ¶ Amazon doesn't even operate in China, which burns massive amounts of coal to generate electricity. ¶ Amazon's energy sources don't have to reflect the world-wide averages. Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 14:20
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    The information from Amazon's website would be good to edit into the question as it can be easier for some to get the information from there instead of a video.
    – Joe W
    Commented Jan 8, 2023 at 18:31
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    A further example of Ray Butterworth's point: Amazon is headquartered in Washington State, where 72.4% of electricity generation comes from renewable sources - mostly hydro (66%): eia.gov/renewable/state/Washington
    – Juhasz
    Commented Jan 9, 2023 at 18:08

1 Answer 1

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Is Amazon powered by 85% renewable energy? Is the wrong question

If the question is "Within the definitions, limitations and constraints that Amazon has set, is the claim that it has achieved 85% renewable energy (as defined by them) correct?" then the answer is: Yes.

I draw this conclusion because that's what the 3rd party assurance statement says.

What they are saying is not what you are hearing

Amazon sets out their Renewable Energy Methodology here. The relevant part says:

Amazon’s Renewable Energy Percentage

To calculate the percentage of renewable energy powering Amazon’s operations, we evaluate both the amount of renewable energy from Amazon’s projects and the renewable energy in the grid. This total renewable energy is then compared to Amazon’s total energy use per the equation below:

Amazon's Renewable Energy % = (Amazon Renewable Energy Projects+Renewable Energy in the Grid)/Amazon Energy Use

Amazon’s renewable energy percentage is calculated on an annual basis, from January 1 through December 31 each year, and assured by an independent third-party auditor along with Amazon’s carbon footprint. We publicly disclose the results of these audits on our sustainability website.

So, that's what they are saying when they say they are 85% renewable.

You can read for yourself what each of the terms in the equation means, but there are a few issues that, to be fair, are not of Amazon's making. For example:

  • Amazon relies on "Site Energy Contracts" with energy suppliers for some of their renewables. Depending on where they are in the world, it has been known for suppliers to, shall we say, "cheat" on these. The same can be said of "Renewable Energy Certificates".
  • Similar problems exist on relying on 3rd-party reporting of the percentage of renewables in the grid. Both utilities and governments have targets to meet, and while we can all hope that they will achieve those in reality rather than just in reporting, we also know what incentives do to human beings. Amazon acknowledges this by saying, "We support the need for an improved data-set that reflects a customer’s delivered electricity mix taking into account: 1. Environmental attributes owned by others. 2. The inter-grid and inter-state ownership and use of renewable energy generation."

It is also important to note that when Amazon refers to "Amazon's Renewable Energy %", they exclude transport energy. It is probably not a coincidence that this is the energy sector most challenging to make renewable. It's a significant exclusion for a company heavily involved in logistics. It's cute that they count on-site EV charging, so they get to count the energy their employees who drive EVs to work as 100% renewable while not counting those driving fossil fuel powered at all; in the scheme of things, this probably doesn't make much difference.

They also exclude anything in their supply chain and any partners outside their direct control. They also only include "financially-integrated subsidiaries" - one assumes there are non-financially-integrated subsidiaries.

I'm not bashing Amazon

This is a tricky area.

There are no internationally accepted standards for determining what percentage of an organisation is "renewable". Without such standards, there is no generally accepted methodology for measuring "renewable" and auditing those measurements.

So companies have to come up with their own: in general, they will start with what is easy to measure (buildings rather than transport, their own operations rather than their supply chain) and, when rolling things out, why wouldn't they go first to the areas that will put them in the best light?

Where things get really tricky is when you look at your customers. Are you a renewable company if you are aggressively selling to the oil and gas industry?

Notwithstanding, Amazon can do better. According to Wired, in terms of cloud services, both Google and Microsoft are doing better. Greenpeace has also raised doubts about Amazon's prognosis.

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    Would it be fair to say this is an example of green washing? And thanks for your answer :) Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 4:54
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    @MoreAnonymous No, that would not be fair. Most legal definitions of "greenwashing" (or more broadly, false and misleading conduct) require "false, misleading, overstated or unsubstantiated environmental advertising". This is not clearly any of that.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 10, 2023 at 4:58
  • @DaleM I think excluding transport energy means this is explicitly overstated. Also, by counting "our renewable energy projects + the renewable energy we pay to consume" they may be double-counting as they may be paying for electricity generated by their own sponsored renewable energy initiatives. Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 2:54
  • @user253751 I had that thought about double counting myself, but if so, so what? By the methodology, they are allowed to double count.
    – Dale M
    Commented Jan 12, 2023 at 1:00

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