Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

Amazon Granted Patent for Salving Your Conscience

Amazon warehouse is trying to take the guilt out of online shipping with its patent for "Environmentally conscious electronic transactions." The patent, granted earlier this week, explains that Amazon hopes to offer both carbon credits and environmentally friendly shipping options. The catch? You have to wait longer—and pay more—for your packages.

Tech Flash reports on the patent, which describes "a computer-implemented method of informing a customer of an environmental impact of a transaction in an electronic environment" that allows shoppers to select items based upon their impact and purchase carbon offsets, to boot. Environmental impact of an item would be determined based on a number of factors, including the amount of recycled and recyclable material, potential landfill volume, carbon footprint resulting from manufacture, delivery impact from the manufacturer to a storage location, and operational impact.

Perhaps the most intriguing part of the patent is the amount of control given to customers:

For example, an environmentally friendly option might use a smaller shipping company that takes advantage of hybrid or hydrogen-powered vehicles, or that places items onto vehicles with empty space that are already scheduled for a particular route. Another option might be one that always uses low-emission vehicles, but that may make several stops along the way and thus might take more time... a customer can also specify to use environmentally friendly materials, even at additional cost ... The customer also can have the ability to select packaging materials that were made in an environmentally friendly facility.

It's the ultimate solution for green-minded customers who want to justify giving up brick-and-mortar stores for Amazon. Don't believe in the power of carbon credits and don't mind waiting an extra few days for your book? Have it packaged in sustainable materials and delivered on a hydrogen-powered truck! Can't wait the extra few days but still want to make a difference? Purchase carbon credits!

Of course, just because the patent was granted doesn't mean Amazon will actually use it. But it seems like a wise move for a company that still has some work to do in the sustainability arena.

Ariel Schwartz can be reached on Twitter or by email.