Why Amazon is great but not good

Like millions of people, I like to shop at Amazon. But the more I learn about the company, the less I like it.

Amazon's  performance on environmental and social issues has been truly dismal, as a I wrote in a story on Guardian Sustainable Business. Here’s how the story begins:

Jeff Immelt, the chief executive of General Electric and one of American’s most influential business leaders, likes to say that "if you want to be a great company today, you also have to be a good company."

Another celebrated chief executive named Jeff -- Jeff Bezos, Amazon's founder and CEO -- is putting that proposition to the test.

Amazon is, in many ways, a great company. But good? Nope.

Amazon doesn't publish a sustainability report, probably because it would have little to say. It doesn't respond to the Carbon Disclosure Project. (More than 80 percent of big companies do.) It's ranked very low by Climate Counts, which rates companies on their efforts to mitigate climate change. Amazon'ss  data centers get low marks from Greenpeace.

Nor does Amazon do well on social and political issues. Until Bezos agreed to install electricity last year, warehouse workers literally toiled in sweatshops where the temperatures could top 90 degrees. The company has fiercely fought efforts by states to collect sales taxes, using bullying tactics at times. If you believe the Seattle Times, and I do, the company gives less to charities than other Seattle companies and “cuts an astoundingly low profile in the civic life of its hometown.” For more, read the rest of the Guardian story.

Here's one more small, but revealing, example of Amazon's cavalier attitude towards environmental issues: Check out, if you have a moment, the page on its website about electronics recycling. Unlike, say, Best Buy, Amazon does not take back electronic waste. Instead, it refers people to other websites, including Earth911. And what does Earth 911 say about electronics recycling? Among other things, it advises customers to take their old electronics back to Best Buy, Staples and Circuit City -- which went bankrupt in 2009!

Next page: Amazon is nowhere compared to Walmart and Best Buy