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11 Aug 2021

What does Amazon's Climate Pledge Friendly label really mean?

We've investigated Amazon's latest green scheme to find out whether it will really help you shop sustainably

When it launched the Climate Pledge Friendly label in September 2020, Amazon set out to make it easy for customers to discover more sustainable products in its online store.

But when we asked shoppers about it more than six months later, 84% had not even heard of the Climate Pledge Friendly label, and just 3% had bought a product because of the label or its credentials.

So how much is Amazon really helping customers to shop more sustainably? Read on to find out.

For more tips, head to our guide to shopping sustainably

What is the Climate Pledge Friendly label?

The Climate Pledge is Amazon's commitment to reach net zero carbon by 2040. It's an ambitious target, especially as the company's most recent carbon footprint report showed a 19% increase in greenhouse gas emissions, from 51.2 MtCO2e (million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent) in 2019 to 60.6 MtCO2e in 2020.

Amazon introduced the new label to support its Climate Pledge, highlighting products that meet certain sustainability standards.

The Climate Pledge Friendly badge is displayed on products certified by any one of several third-party organisations. These include well-known schemes such as Fairtrade, the Rainforest Alliance and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), along with some names that are less familiar in the UK such as Blue Angel (the German government's ecolabel) and Nordic Swan (the official ecolabel of the Nordic countries).

These third-party certifications demonstrate that the products' sustainability claims are independently tested and verified.

However, products also get the Climate Pledge Friendly label if they have Compact by Design certification, a new assessment created by Amazon to identify products that use less packaging. This can be awarded regardless of the sustainability of the item itself.

Customers browsing the Amazon website will see the Climate Pledge Friendly logo alongside the product title, but a further click will reveal which certification has been achieved.

Are these products genuinely more sustainable?

Many of the third-party certifications Amazon relies on when awarding the label are well established and reputable; however, their assessments often apply to just one aspect of a product's sustainability.

For example, a number of tea, coffee and chocolate products are labelled as Climate Pledge Friendly, due to their Rainforest Alliance certification, which means the product or ingredient was produced by farmers in ways that support social, economic, and environmental sustainability.

But among the products listed are hard-to-recycle coffee pods, individually wrapped sweets in non-recyclable wrappers and non-compostable tea bags that contain plastic. So although the key ingredients - tea, coffee and cocoa - are grown sustainably, the finished product and its packaging are less environmentally friendly.

Nespresso coffee pods

The same products, with Rainforest Alliance certification, are readily available in supermarkets and elsewhere, and the Climate Pledge Friendly label does not mean it is more sustainable when bought from Amazon.

Similarly, many items that have been awarded Compact by Design - Amazon's own scheme - might not normally be considered sustainable at all, such as pet food packaged in hard-to-recycle pouches.

We also found many toiletries, including 'big brand' shampoo in standard plastic bottles, labelled as Climate Pledge Friendly. This is especially confusing when they appear alongside products such as a solid shampoo bar - described as vegan, cruelty-free and packaged in a 100% recycled and recyclable box - that gets the same Climate Pledge Friendly logo.

So does the Climate Pledge Friendly label help shoppers at all?

How to use the Climate Pledge Friendly filter

After we explained the Climate Pledge Friendly label, more than two in five people we surveyed said they would be likely to search for products with the label in future.

There are a couple of ways to find Climate Pledge Friendly items. If you're not sure where to start, Amazon's Climate Pledge Friendly home page offers six categories to browse: apparel; beauty; computers & office; electronics; grocery; and health & household. Select a category and filter to narrow down the options.

If you know what you're looking for, type a search term into the search bar then select the Climate Pledge Friendly tick box filter in the left-hand menu column.

When we searched, however, we didn't find all the products we expected to see.

How easy is it to find sustainable products on Amazon?

According to Amazon, there are more than 75,000 Climate Pledge Friendly badged products for sale across the US and Europe, in a wide range of categories including grocery, household, fashion, beauty and electronics.

It is estimated that Amazonitself has an inventory of about 12 million items in total, but if you include Marketplace sellers that number expands to about 350 million.

Based on those numbers, Climate Pledge Friendly items make up just 0.02% of all products listed for sale on the platform. So how do you go about finding a sustainable needle in a haystack?

Bypass the Climate Pledge Friendly filter to find more sustainable options

While certifications play an important part in verifying product sustainability claims, they don't always tell the whole story.

Unfortunately, many of the best-known sustainable brands and products have not yet received Amazon's Climate Pledge Friendly badge. We entered some search terms to find popular items widely thought of as sustainable:

  • 'Ecover washing up liquid': Our search found plenty of Ecover options, but most were not labelled as Climate Pledge Friendly.

Why did we search for Ecover? Ecover products use mainly plant-based ingredients. They are Leaping Bunny certified cruelty-free, not tested on animals, use only RSPO certified palm oil, and bottles are made from plant plastic and post-consumer recycled plastic.

For more on choosing washing-up liquid, find out how eco-friendly is your washing up liquid?

  • 'Rechargeable batteries': Lots of choice of rechargeable batteries, including Amazon's own brand and Duracell, but none were marked as Climate Pledge Friendly. In contrast, many disposable (non-rechargeable) batteries do display the label.

Why did we search for rechargeable batteries? Disposable batteries require a lot of energy and resources to make, and have a short lifespan. Rechargeable batteries - which can be used many times over - are better for the environment, have less impact on global warming, and result in less air, water and soil pollution.

Find out how to buy the best rechargeable batteries.

  • 'Burt's Bees': Many products in the Burt's Bees range have the Climate Pledge Friendly logo, while other, seemingly similar Burt's Bees products, do not.

Why did we search for Burt's Bees? Burt's Bees doesn't test on animals and is Leaping Bunny certified, CarbonNeutral certified, sends zero waste to landfill, and aims to source ingredients sustainably and ethically.

  • 'Patagonia': Amazon has a wide range of Patagonia clothes for men and women, but we couldn't find any marked as Climate Pledge Friendly.

Why did we search for Patagonia? More than half of the textiles Patagonia uses are recycled, and all its virgin cotton is grown organically. Its clothing and materials are accredited by sustainability standards including Fairtrade, Responsible Wool Standard, Forest Stewardship Council, and Bluesign.

  • 'Keep cup': There are thousands of options on Amazon, including the KeepCup brand itself, but only a dozen or so displaying the Climate Pledge Friendly badge.

Why did we search for 'keep cup'? The brand KeepCup makes reusable coffee cups designed for use 'on the go' to replace disposable cups. It is a certified B Corporation and donates at least 1% of its global revenue to environmental causes.

Using any reusable cup, keep cup or travel mug can help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfill. Find the best reusable coffee cups and travel mugs.

There are lots of sustainable products and brands available on the Amazon website, but you won't find them all by searching for the Climate Pledge Friendly label.

Six ways to shop more sustainably on Amazon

  1. Use the Climate Pledge Friendly filter as a starting point, but don't rely on it. Try using search terms such as fair trade, organic, recycled or recyclable, zero waste, cruelty-free, energy efficient or low carbon instead.
  2. If you already have a favourite sustainable brand, search for the brand name itself and, to make sure you see all the options, don't use the Climate Pledge Friendly filter.
  3. Do your sustainability research elsewhere - check Which? product guides for Eco Buys, for example - before heading to Amazon.
  4. Before you choose a Climate Pledge Friendly product, check which certification it has received, as some of them may be more important to you than others. A fundamentally unsustainable product that happens to be sold in smaller packaging may not meet your expectations as a conscious consumer.
  5. Whatever you buy, try to group your order into as few deliveries as possible. If you don't need them immediately, having several items delivered at once usually reduces packaging and means your order is delivered more efficiently.
  6. Consider some of Amazon's other sustainable shopping options. At Amazon Second Chance you can trade in items or buy refurbished, pre-owned, and open-box products, while Amazon Handmade features handcrafted products from small UK businesses. Use Amazon Smile as your default, so every time you buy Amazon donates 0.5% of the price to your chosen charity.

Alternatives to Amazon for sustainable online shopping

While Amazon is undeniably a convenient and popular choice for millions of customers, many shoppers prefer to avoid it and support smaller or more sustainable businesses instead.

If you're looking for alternatives, the good news is that there are online retailers selling sustainable clothes, groceries, beauty products, toys, gifts and more. Try websites such as Ethical Superstore, Buy Me Once, Wearth and Social Supermarket or search for local sustainable retailers who deliver in your area.

Our research

The results are based on an online survey conducted in May 2021 of 1,065 people who browse or shop on Amazon.