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Published on October 4th, 2019 | by Danielle

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Amazon Hurting The Amazon: Warehousing’s Environmental Impacts

E-commerce continues to grow at an incredible pace largely thanks to industry giant Amazon, particularly within the garment industry. As of August 2017, women’s apparel was the number one top-selling item on the internet. While many people don’t think about the costs of shipping beyond the label “free” that comes with many Amazon purchases, these practices are having growing impacts on both workers and the environment.

Free Shipping, Environmental Costs

With the age of the internet changing how people shop, the warehousing industry is at an all time high. Amazon, in particular, is largely responsible nowadays for setting the industry standards on both warehousing and shipping. However, Amazon’s record delivery times come at a steep cost to the environment. Less than 30% of warehouses are efficient, according to ìBenchmarking Warehouse Performance. Additionally, shipping items from their manufacturing location to a warehouse, and then finally to an end consumer, takes a significant amount of resources. There are approximately 17 million shipping containers in the world, only 6 million of which are in use. This is in addition to the large amounts of fuel required to ship items, many internationally, in order to reach multiple destinations for storage and finally delivery.

Warehouse Conditions Put Workers At Risk

Not only are the requirements of fast and cheap shipping damaging to the environment; they’re often directly harmful to workers. Warehouse workers face incredibly high workloads and often dangerous conditions, usually the result of attempting to slim down operational costs at workers’ expense. Unfortunately, because Amazon has set standards for e-commerce impossibly high, these difficult working conditions are becoming normal across warehouses for e-commerce across the nation.

For those warehouses that are looking to improve their efficiency and protect workers, automation can prove a promising option. After all, machines are often capable of increased productivity and reduced cost. Robotics are also capable of performing in conditions that workers can’t withstand. Hydraulic load cells, for example, can and do operate at temperatures of -76 degrees. As efficient and surprisingly eco-friendly as automation might be, there is still a price to be paid: jobs for warehouse workers.

The Cost Of Efficiency

As more warehouses and other similar industries shift to automation for the sake of efficiency, workers are unfortunately set up to struggle. Employees being replaced by automation struggle to find employment in an economy that’s increasingly prioritizing low operational costs. While opting for machines may, in some ways, prove the more environmentally friendly and efficient option, it comes at a human cost for former workers. Workers being put out of a job due to automation may not be able to find another job that their skill set aligns with without additional training, and that training is often too expensive to be realistic. Efficiency and low operational costs may be great for companies like Amazon and other e-commerce giants, but often it does not address the real problems of environmental and human impact.

With sales only increasing online for e-commerce giants, it is difficult to say what the future holds for both warehouse workers and the environment. While automation may provide some avenues for environmental improvement, it comes at a significant cost to workers everywhere. Likewise, if shipping and warehousing methods don’t change, the environmental impact will continue to compound upon itself. Amazon and other industry leaders will likely determine the future of e-commerce’s impact with their actions in the near future.


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