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Amazon Begins Expanding Electric Van Program, Provides Update on Packaging Reduction

Amazon is seeing returns on its sustainability investments, particularly for its electric delivery van pilot and machine learning (ML)-powered reductions in packaging weight. These initiatives are part of Amazon’s commitment to The Climate Pledge, which calls on signatories to achieve net zero carbon by 2040.

Electric Delivery Vans Launching in 15 Cities

Amazon placed an order for 100,000 electric vans from Rivian in August 2020, and the first part of the fleet will begin making deliveries in 15 cities over the course of 2021, starting with Los Angeles. The routes are being chosen to expose the vans to a variety of different climates and geographies as a test of their performance, safety and durability, to prepare for tens of thousands of vehicles hitting the road in the next few years.

Amazon also has started getting its buildings ready to accommodate the new fleet of vehicles through the installation of thousands of electric vehicle charging stations at delivery points across North America and Europe. Last year, Amazon delivered more than 20 million packages using electric vehicles, and the retailer plans to continue building on this momentum in 2021.

Data Analysis Leads to More Efficient Packaging

Since 2015, Amazon has reduced the weight of its outbound packaging by 33%, eliminating 915,000 tons of packaging material worldwide. This was achieved through ML solutions powered by Amazon SageMaker, which helped the retail giant make more sustainable packaging decisions on a mass scale.

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Amazon’s ML algorithm is built on terabytes of product data, ranging from product descriptions to customer feedback. This lets the company identify items that can be packed in padded paper mailers or paper bags, which are 75% lighter and take up 40% less space than a box during shipping and translates to fewer trucks on the road. By 2020, ML tools changed the packaging mix significantly, reducing the use of boxes from 69% to 42% of items.

“Our goal is to minimize the amount of packaging customers have to dispose of, and to increase recyclability of our packaging,” said Justine Mahler, Packaging Senior Manager at Amazon in an interview with Venture Beat. “Carbon is the primary metric we hold ourselves accountable to when we think about sustainability for the customer — and our corporate responsibility is to be a leader in this space.”

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