Kevin Winston of Amazon speaking at 2019 Business & Environment Conference

Kevin Winston, global environmental affairs leader, Amazon

Kevin Winston, global environmental affairs leader for Amazon, answered questions during lunch Monday. No one needed to be convinced that Amazon is big and influential, but his comments revealed just how much Amazon influences everything from retail strategy to sustainability.

Amazon has 2,000 fulfillment centers and 900,000 employees worldwide. Those are really big numbers, but they are not especially surprising. Here’s a less intuitive number: Amazon employees 200 sustainability professionals. In other words, Amazon has as many employees dedicated to sustainability as large consulting firm or a good size regulatory agency. And those are just sustainability professionals; there are other employees with environmental roles as well.

“We have millions of items,” Winston said. “It’s very difficult to do a waste classification in short order.” The complexity of sorting items for recycling, donation or disposal creates another challenge. It can be difficult to handle items in the way and with the speed regulators expect.

While Amazon’s size ensures that the company attracts attention even in countries where environmental enforcement budgets are limited, it also gives Amazon’s clout. The company has the ability not only to change its own packaging standards but also to influence the packaging and sustainability practices of its suppliers and partners.

A recent example of Amazon using its influence was a 2040 Climate Pledge issued in September. Essentially, Amazon promised to meet the standards of the Paris climate accord early. More information on the pledge is available here.


See the video of Kevin’s session