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by Colin Cardwell
12 February 2024
Associate Feature: Delivering sustainability

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Associate Feature: Delivering sustainability

An Amazon cargo bike, with its distinctive ‘smile’ logo, glides almost noiselessly up to doorways across Glasgow every few minutes. 

And while most of us are aware of the convenience of ordering an Amazon Prime delivery from our laptop, tablet or smartphone, perhaps fewer are aware of the global company’s continuing and growing commitment to become ever more sustainable across its operations in Scotland and beyond. 

Green energy is an area in which the country enjoys a distinctive advantage, explains Lindsay McQuade, Director of Amazon Energy, EMEA, Amazon Web Service (AWS), who is responsible for ensuring that the company’s data centres are connected to, and supported by, power from sustainable sources.

Sustainability is a key priority for the company with its climate-related policies such as waste and resources management for packaging, biodiversity for new building and infrastructure developments, low-carbon energy generation, transport decarbonisation and emissions reporting.

Amazon, which in 2019 announced the goal of reaching 100 per cent renewable energy use by 2030, has already invested in three operational wind farms in Scotland: the 50 megawatt (MW), 14-turbine Beinn an Tuirc 3 wind farm on the Kintyre peninsula and the Kennoxhead I and II developments in South Lanarkshire. The company is now on a path to achieve this goal by 2025.

Both Kintyre and South Lanarkshire are onshore projects but last month Amazon signed a new corporate power purchase agreement (CPPA) with ENGIE, increasing its share of output from Ocean Winds’ Moray West offshore wind farm in Scotland to a total of 473MW when the site becomes operational later this year. That is enough energy to power the equivalent of more than 650,000 UK homes annually.  

Ocean Winds is a 50-50 EDP Renewables-ENGIE joint venture dedicated to offshore wind and to raise the project’s profile, Amazon hosted a Sustainability Showcase, the company’s first of such at the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday 31 January to accompany the announcement and showcase wider initiatives. 

The occasion was held in the Garden Lobby of the parliament building and was set up as a mini exhibition and drop-in event, with stands that showed examples and demonstrations of initiatives from across the business. 

The audience included MSPs, Scottish Government officials, parliamentary staff, advisers, representatives from various trade associations and think tanks and other senior sustainability leaders. Michael Marra MSP hosted the event and Ms McQuade spoke alongside Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Net Zero and Just Transition, Màiri McAllan.

Located in the Moray Firth, the wind farm, with a total capacity of 882MW is currently under construction and will generate power in 2024. 

McQuade said: “Transitioning to carbon-free energy sources is one of the most impactful ways to lower carbon emissions and is part of our Climate Pledge commitment to reach net zero carbon across our operations by 2040. 

“By 2022, 90 per cent of electricity consumed by Amazon was attributable to renewable energy sources. 

“Projects like Moray West not only play a critical role in decarbonising our operations, but they also help open up the market for additional wind and solar farms, and accelerate the decarbonisation of electricity grids in the UK and around the world.”

Amazon, she adds, announced 39 new renewable energy projects across Europe last year, adding more than 1GW of clean energy capacity to grids in the region. Its investment in solar and wind projects has led the company to become Europe’s and the UK’s largest corporate purchaser of renewable energy, a position it has held since 2021. 

In addition, between 2014 to 2022, renewable energy projects in the UK involving the company generated an estimated £285m in investment and helped to contribute more than £90m to the UK’s GDP, while also supporting 600 local jobs.

“The differential at this new project is the scale of offshore wind. This is a multiple of magnitudes greater than the announcements that we’ve made in the past and it’s tremendous to be able to build on the success of Beinn an Tuirc 3, which was our first development in Scotland, and Kennoxhead,” says  McQuade. 

The Moray West project, she adds, is Amazon’s largest CPPA in the UK to date. “We initially announced our intention to decarbonise our operations in 2019 when the CPPA market was in its infancy in the UK – and indeed Europe – and were then more used to seeing renewable energy being supported through government mechanisms and auctions. 

“But what we quickly realised was that there was an understanding and appreciation within the renewables sector that it could work with corporates and expedite getting power on to the market more quickly.” 

In doing so, the company has expanded the market and is for the fourth year in succession the largest CPPA procurer on a global basis, a figure that was confirmed by BloombergNEF earlier this year.

“We are now effectively as big as some of the large energy companies out there that we’ve contracted to enable and invest in,” says Ms McQuade who has held several strategic roles in her 20-year career in the sector, including most recently as chief executive of ScottishPower Renewables where she was also a member of the ScottishPower Management Committee and Iberdrola’s Renewables global leadership team.

Through this experience she is well-versed in the attributes of Scotland as a renewable powerhouse and of the country’s topography and the opportunity this offers in achieving the Paris Agreement’s goal of becoming carbon neutral 10 years early in 2040 and ensuring the company is on a path to 100 per cent renewable energy to power its operations by 2025.

 “In 2004, we opened our Scotland Development Centre in Edinburgh – the first outside North America,” says McQuade. “The centre creates and develops innovations used globally by the company with a team of more than 400 people working across different roles, from scientists to product managers, technical program managers and designers,” she adds. 

Returning to the company’s familiar delivery vans, investment in wind power is central to Amazon’s pledge to deliver goods sustainably. “This is central to our ability to decarbonise our transport and infrastructure,” says McQuade. 

“We’re continuing to explore and invest in various technologies to enable that, through a fleet of electric heavy goods vehicles transporting our products to our fulfilment centres, and 1000 electric vans on roads across the UK delivering parcels and packages to our customers.

“What is a perhaps more visible is when we talk about delivery into that ‘last mile’ – and we want to focus on how we can both distribute orders as efficiently and sustainably as possible.”

McQuade enumerates some of the company’s other sustainability innovations. One, she recalls, was an email from former Prime Minister Gordon Brown that led to a meeting in the company’s warehouse in Fife and saw Amazon become, with The Cottage Family Centre, the founding partner of the Multibank initiative.  This operates a ‘second chance’ store, with a click and collect system for donations with returns resold, linking demand for families with a supply of surplus goods.

“This means that pre-owned items – returns and unwanted items – reach people who need them,” she says. 

Packaging is an essential component in the company’s business and Amazon, she stresses, is continually pioneering new technologies and approaches to keep this to the minimum. “We have moved from single-use plastic delivery bags to paper bags and cardboard envelopes and boxes across our European delivery network, and we’re shipping more items in their original manufacturers’ packaging, where we only add an address label.”

Suitable items are sent without additional packaging and 11 per cent of products worldwide were delivered in this way in 2022. “New technology also allows us to custom make boxes to the correct size, reducing wastage.”

And returning to deliveries, Scotland is the latest hub for electric cargo bikes after their introduction in London and Manchester, part of Amazon’s £300m investment in the electrification and decarbonisation of its UK transportation network. These cargo bikes  help to take traditional vans off the city’s roads and alleviate traffic congestion and improve air quality.

“We’re pulling every single lever to reduce our carbon and eventually working to achieve net zero by 2040, stresses Ms McQuade. “And that includes packaging, infrastructure, and transport. We’re fast approaching that date and we all have the responsibility to make sure that the next generation sees the benefits a truly sustainable business.

“Our positive customer feedback is what drives us on to improve our performance and our capacity at Moray West is a major showcase for this,” she says. “Every day our teams are collaborating across businesses and with partners to help us become more sustainable.”

This article is sponsored by Amazon

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