Amazon is expanding its empire of warehouses at breakneck speed, and it’s building most of them in neighborhoods of color, according to a new investigation by Consumer Reports. That ultimately burdens Black and brown communities with the truck traffic, noise, and pollution that warehouses bring.
Almost 70 percent of Amazon warehouses in the US are in neighborhoods with a higher proportion of residents of color than what’s typical in other neighborhoods in the rest of the metro area, according to Consumer Reports. Fifty-seven percent of neighborhoods near Amazon warehouses have more low-income residents, too. To suss this out, Consumer Reports cross-referenced data from the Environmental Protection Agency, US Census Bureau, and a database of Amazon facilities that it purchased from a logistics consulting firm.
“Our communities are being sacrificed in the name of economic development,” José Acosta-Córdova, an organizer at the Chicago-based nonprofit Little Village Environmental Justice Organization, told Consumer Reports.
E-commerce is largely responsible for more and bigger warehouses. Online retail giants, with Amazon leading the way, generally need huge warehouses rather than retail space to store and distribute goods. $1 billion in online sales translates to 1.25 million square feet of warehouse space demand, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE. With online shopping rising for years and the pandemic further accelerating the trend, warehouses have recently eclipsed offices as the most common commercial building in the US.
Amazon, in particular, has made a killing in sales during the pandemic and drastically increased the number of warehouses it operates to keep up. It opened almost 300 new facilities in 2020, Consumer Reports found, compared to an average of 75 annually during the five years prior. Amazon’s warehouse footprint dwarfs other retailers: its new additions in 2020 alone are already two-thirds that of all of Walmart’s warehouse space. Amazon did not immediately provide comment to The Verge.
The impacts of the warehouse boom will be felt most acutely by the Black, brown, and low-income communities where they’re going up. The Inland Empire, a once quiet community on the edge of Southern California’s deserts that’s now a warehouse hotspot, has the worst smog in the nation, according to the American Lung Association. And it’s far from an outlier: research is finding that neighborhoods in California with warehouses have significantly worse air pollution than similar areas without warehouses. Poor air quality is linked to a litany of health problems, including asthma and heart attacks, placing communities that often are least able to afford good health care at greater risk.
If the new Consumer Reports investigation is any indicator, the problem will get worse before it gets better. Go read the full story here.