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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

As world leaders waffle on policies to head off the extraordinary climate change threat, the retail sector — America’s largest private employer — is moving on its own to cut back its environmental harm.

Why it matters: E-commerce and retail giants pump out emissions and pollution through mass manufacturing, incessant speedy shipping and uncurbed waste. Per one estimate, the fashion industry alone will burn up a quarter of the world's carbon budget by 2050.

By the numbers:

  • The manufacturing toll: Apparel and footwear industries contribute to 8% of global environmental impact, mostly due to manufacturing in Asian countries where factories rely on coal and natural gas, according to a 2018 report from sustainability research firm Quantis.
  • The logistics toll: The combined annual emissions of FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service is roughly equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of 7 million cars. And to feed the demand for e-commerce, retailers are building more energy-guzzling warehouses.
  • The waste toll: The world wastes a garbage truck worth of textiles every second, per the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. On top of that, the packaging that comes with the stuff we order or buy accounts for half of all plastic waste, Supply Chain Dive reports.

The latest: Amazon — the biggest retailer on the planet, delivering more than 10 billion packages a year — came out last week with an ambitious climate plan to hit carbon neutrality by 2040, 10 years earlier than the Paris Climate Accord's goal. Its moves could have a ripple effect.

  • As part of the plan, Jeff Bezos is also committing to lobbying other big CEOs as well as his company's suppliers and deliverers to cut emissions. "We've been in the middle of the herd on this issue, and we want to move to the forefront," Bezos said at the announcement.
  • "Amazon is a huge part of everyday life in America right now," says Costa Samaras, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University. "Companies will be willing to jump through sustainability hoops to be part of that Amazon ecosystem."

Other retailers have made commitments to curb impact as well.

  • In 2018, a number of brands — like Nike, Burberry, H&M and Hugo Boss — signed a charter for climate action that included a pledge to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30% by 2030.
  • Walmart says it is on track to reduce its emissions by 1 billion metric tons — the equivalent of 212 million cars' annual emissions — by 2030. The giant also reported recycling 430 million pounds of plastic in 2018.
  • Best Buy is going a step beyond its own footprint and attempting to help shoppers reduce their impact when using Best Buy electronics. The company is investing in building energy-efficient devices and pledges to cut the emissions of its products by 20% by 2030.

The bottom line: The retail industry still has a long way to go in reducing its environmental impact, experts say. But companies are realizing that "to stay relevant requires action on sustainability," says Berkley Rothmeier of the climate advocacy group Business for Social Responsibility. "There is huge pressure for the private sector to get ahead of risk, and please employees and customers."

Go deeper

Updated 17 mins ago - World

State Department orders evacuation of U.S. diplomats' families from Ukraine

From left, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and U.S. Chargés d'Affaires in Ukraine Kristina Kvien during a meeting with Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal in Kyiv. Photo: Yevhen Liubimov/ Ukrinform/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The State Department will begin evacuating families and non-essential staff from the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv this week, according to a travel advisory published Sunday evening.

Why it matters: The move underscores U.S. fears that a Russian invasion could destabilize Ukraine and threaten embassy's ability to assist Americans.

Perfect storm brewing for extreme politicians

Data: Axios research; Table: Jacque Schrag/Axios

Redistricting and a flood of departing incumbents are paving the way for more extreme candidates in this year's midterm elections.

Driving the news: At least 19 House districts in 12 states are primed to attract such candidates — hard partisans running in strongly partisan districts — according to an Axios analysis of districts as measured by the Cook Political Report's Partisan Voter Index (PVI).

Updated 45 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

  1. Health: Fauci: "Confident" Omicron cases will peak in February — FDA OKs antiviral drug remdesivir for non-hospitalized COVID patients — Walensky: CDC language "pivoting" on "fully vaccinated".
  2. Vaccines: Annual COVID vaccine preferable to boosters, says Pfizer CEO — Team USA 100% vaccinated against COVID ahead of Beijing Olympics.
  3. Politics: Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates — Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" on anti-mask school policies.
  4. World: Beijing Olympic Committee lowers COVID testing threshold ahead of Games — Beijing officials urge COVID-19 "emergency mode" before Winter Olympics — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker