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August 15, 2008

Amazon: Green Shopping Section

Category: Companies,Cool Sites,Economics,Tips – Tom Harrison – 12:05 pm

Amazon Goes Green

Amazon Green

A simple and good idea. Shop at Amazon Green.

I hope they continue to make attempts to improve their shipping practices. They do claim that their packaging is “right sized” and mostly made of recycled materials, but they have to be able to do better. As one of the country’s (world?) leading online retailers, they should have some power.

Here’s my list of suggestions:

  • Switch to Cornstarch Packing Peanuts that dissolve in water. Amazon currently uses inflatable plastic pillows which they claim are recyclable; but that’s kind of a specious claim … do they actually get recycled? Amazon should be able to manufacture the peanuts on-site.
  • Demand non-retail packaging from manufacturers. A lot of stuff is packaged with the intent to be sold in a retail store. Small items get big packages so they will get seen, and many products are put in shoplifting-resistant packages (like that stuff with the really tough plastic). It is bulky, expensive and in many cases unnecessary.
  • One case where packaging is necessary is when the item is fragile. But except for very large items, it seems like Amazon puts the box inside another box. They should demand their manufacturers pack fragile products in a shippable box. A simple paper label could allow Amazon to get branding on these boxes.
  • Provide manuals and other printed materials online and not in the box
  • Keep up with digital download, Kindle, TiVo Unbox, etc. programs
  • Provide incentives for customers who choose green products, for example free shipping, or credits, coupons, etc.
  • Update the paper they use that claims online retailing is greener than traditional retailing
  • Soft goods: offer samples of fabric for feel and color, to avoid returns. Be smart about this and work with UPS to coordinate re-use samples
  • Build a really good “virtual model” tool (Land’s End tried this) to let customers create their body profile to avoid mis-fits, and subsequent returns. A good system should also be able to let customers keep track of their color likes and dislikes.
  • Allow customers free shipping and a limited number of returns; once the return-rate gets too high, pull free shipping privileges.
  • Encourage customers to batch non-critical purchases for single shipment, e.g. via incentive
  • Join forces with Wal*Mart’s Packaging Scorecard initiative

A lot of incentives? Sure, but each should reduce Amazon costs significantly, I would think. Apparently Wal*Mart saved a great deal of money through their continued packing reduction program, and others.

Am I picking on Amazon? Perhaps — these apply to almost any online retailer. But Amazon has shown a willingness to move in the right direction, and should have a pretty significant market power to cause good things to happen.


  1. I disagree about providing manuals and instructions on line. I have an older computer and (I must admit it) older eyes. I often need to take off my glasses to read the fine print on instructions. I would have to print the manual from my computer which would take a lot more paper than the sort of flimsy paper that is used for manuals – also, my printer can’t print anything that contains color.

    Maybe the solution for those of us who, due to age or lack of money to upgrade our computers, need a paper manual would be to add a question in the on-line order: “Include a paper manual, Y/N ?”

    Also, I have no idea what “Kindle” and “TiVo Unbox” are.

    Comment by Debbie — August 19, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  2. Debbie —

    Your idea for manuals is right (I have the same eyes as you :-) — consumers should probably have the option to get a printed manual.

    TiVo Unbox is a service by Amazon that allows you to rent or buy movies by having them downloaded to a TiVo digital video recorder. No plastic involved.

    Kindle is Amazon’s electronic book — you can read a book from a very portable and readable screen, rather than paper. Not for everyone, to be sure, but the nice thing is you can buy books without any being printed — no paper, no shipping, no waste.


    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 19, 2008 @ 7:26 pm

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