Drones, AI & Slimmer Vans: Sustainability the Amazon Way

An Amazon delivery drone
On stage at MOVE 2024, Amazon’s Marina Lussich told how delivery drones, AI-guided packaging and slimmer Rivian vans are helping it towards net zero

Global giant Amazon is utilising delivery drones, AI-guided packaging and new, slimmer delivery vans as it explores all avenues to decarbonise its operations.

Speaking on day one of Mobility Re-Imagined | MOVE 2024, Marina Lussich, Principal Programme Manager, Sustainability, Amazon, explained the many ways it is reducing emissions.

‘Presenting Amazon’s Sustainability Plans’ saw Marina do just that as she outlined the combination of innovation and collaboration that is taking effect.

An Amazon packaging factory

Getting the packaging right

She began by talking about innovations in packaging, saying: “The first thing customers see is the packaging. We ship billions of packages all over the world.

“We use an AI model called Packaging Decision Engine. We’ve invested heavily in technology for matching package size to the packaging. We have reduced packaging by more than 40%, avoiding two million tonnes of packaging.”

She added: “The packaging is heat sealed, so there is no glue and no tape. It’s a cutting-edge process.

“More than 50% of Amazon’s shipments in Europe come in reduced, recyclable packages - or no packaging at all.”

Although the Amazon packages are ubiquitous, not all Amazon deliveries come in the familiar boxes.

Marina said: “We’ve gone even further with ship-in packaging. For example, if a toaster or a kettle comes in its own packaging and it’s good enough we will just put the labels on it.

“The packaging process means we can get more parcels in our vehicles, so there are fewer journeys.”

Amazon

The rail trail

Marina explained that transportation by rail produces far less carbon.

She said: “In Europe, we partner with rail operators on 100 lanes for trains. We use containers that can be transferred between ships, trains and trucks.

“Using rail helps us to cut our emissions: in 2023, Amazon grew its use of rail by 50%.

“We operate 300 rail routes with our partners.”

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Air mail

If you think ‘air mail’ is all about planes, think again.

For an army of Amazon drones is being prepped to do mail drops.

Marina said: “We are launching drone delivery this year in Italy, the UK and at a US location.

“We’ve had to work closely with regulators to do this. The MK30 model is quieter and smaller and can fly twice as far and operate in harsher weather conditions.”

Amazon has also introduced 25 new e-trucks in Dusseldorf and Dortmund. They have been in the UK for two years, Marina said.

“We are taking part in a trial of liquid hydrogen-fuelled trucks with Daimler, which has built a network that means trucks can be refuelled in 10-15 minutes.”

She added: “In terms of charging, in order to operate with real focus, speed and efficiency with electric vehicles, we need reliability and flexibility.

“We can’t be telling customers that their delivery is delayed by three hours while we charge the vehicle.

“Where to place charging infrastructure is key. We've worked with our data scientists to create an open-source map of ideal charging locations. It shows companies where it’s best to invest.

“Charging Location for Electric Trucks (Chalet) is being used by businesses.”

Amazon Rivian van

Expanding (but slimming down) delivery vans

Marina revealed that the increasingly common custom-made Rivian vans are growing – and shrinking.

She said: “Last year, 300 custom-made Rivian vans were launched in Germany. We have ordered 100,000 to be delivered fully by 2030.

“We have 13,500 already in the US. For Europe, we designed it slightly smaller and narrower.

“But we need a constant supply of renewable energy. Rapidly scaling renewables is the best way to make this work.

“We are on track to reach 100% renewable energy use in our own operations by 2025 – five years ahead of our target of 2030.”

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