Disrupt Black Friday - Protest Projection in Hamburg. © Bente Stachowske / Greenpeace
In Hamburg, Greenpeace Germany protests against overconsumption and its consequences to our environment for Black Friday (2018) © Bente Stachowske / Greenpeace

Since Black Friday last year, I have been receiving daily promotional emails from Temu, a global e-commerce platform owned by PDD Holdings, which also operates Pinduoduo, a similar e-commerce platform that is popular in China.

The emails have irresistible subject lines: there are announcements of unrealistic deals such as “Enjoy 90% off on everything” and “All $4.98?? No joke”. Gradually, you begin to feel  severe FOMO because “Our CLEARANCE is only for today” and “It’s Almost Gone!”. With the new year sales, these so-called deals are not stopping anytime soon. 

Apparently, I am not alone in being targeted by Temu’s powerful campaigns. According to the research firm Apptopia, shoppers were spending about twice as long on Temu than on the apps of retail majors Amazon and Target, and the gap kept widening. The company was so popular that its market value once surpassed that of Alibaba a few days after Temu launched its Black Friday campaign.

But what is Temu?

Registered in Boston, Temu is owned by PDD Holdings, a multinational group that owns and operates a portfolio including Pinduoduo and Temu. PDD Holdings is now registered in Ireland and listed on the NASDAQ.

Following the huge success of Pinduoduo in China, Temu was launched first in the US in September 2022 and quickly became known as an online marketplace offering deep discounts on a wide range of products that were already very modestly priced. After showing up in two 30-second slots at the 2023 Super Bowl, Temu reportedly became the most downloaded app in the US on both iOS and Android mobile app stores.

A key market player…but what about its environmental responsibilities?

Black Friday Light Painting in Copenhagen
Long exposure image taken in Copenhagen, Denmark, with an LED ‘pixelstick’ light painting reading ‘If you don’t need it, don’t buy it’ for Black Friday. © Michael Hedelain / Greenpeace

While Temu is on its way to claiming success in the e-commerce market, we should also point out its environmental performance…or rather its lack thereof.  Apart from issues such as excessive waste and hyper-consumerism, Temu reportedly sends more than a million packages around the world every day. With such a high demand for air freighters, what implication does this have on the climate? And besides transportation, the kind of electricity Temu purchases and uses to power its massive computing needs and process data, also has a great implication for its climate footprint.

We searched, but unfortunately, we could not find the right information to make a judgment.

We combed through all the usual places where publicly listed corporates make climate disclosure, such as the company’s official website, websites of voluntary disclosure initiatives such as non-profit organisation, CDP, and even did a scan on wider online media. Yet the closest thing we could find on Temu was a few pages from the ESG report of its sister company Pinduoduo from 2020. And even that report revealed no data about the company’s actual environmental impacts, such as power consumption figures or greenhouse gas emissions.

With the absence of this information, the general public is in the dark about what impact shopping on Temu does to our planet. As Temu has the responsibility to operate in line with the principles of sustainability, we as consumers, have the responsibility to demand climate transparency from Temu.

Why should we care about e-commerce platforms’ climate and environmental impacts?

Corporations have always been important stakeholders in the world’s efforts to tackle climate change. For Temu, a fast-growing international e-commerce platform company, its daily operation inevitably brings about multiple environmental impacts.

Computing: Both physical and virtual data centers consume considerable amounts of electricity. A 2021 study showed that data centers consumed around 1.8% of electricity in the US. As electricity generation globally still heavily relies on fossil fuels, some e-commerce companies have tried to reduce carbon emissions from electricity use by purchasing renewable energy. 

Transportation: With the continuous prosperity of e-commerce platforms, the skyrocketing number of orders has led to an increase in express delivery services, which also means an increase in transportation and carbon emissions. This is particularly concerning in the case of cross-border e-commerce. First, with consumers increasingly demanding quick deliveries, the long-haul transport of products could drive up global demand for carbon-intensive air freight services. According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), 131 billion parcels, or 80% of cross-border e-commerce are now transported by air, and could reach 95% by 2040. With air freight emitting significantly more CO2 than shipping, cross-border e-commerce’s carbon emissions must be taken seriously by companies and regulators. 

Packaging waste: In South Korea, for example, a 2022 study estimated that given the same amount of money spent, online shopping generates 4.8 times more packaging waste than offline shopping. 

Chemicals: With small-value parcels not being systematically regulated by quality watchdogs, it is unclear how cross-border e-commerce companies can effectively keep their products safe from hazardous chemicals. A Greenpeace Germany investigation found that of the 47 SHEIN products tested, seven of them (15%) contained hazardous chemicals that break EU regulatory limits, and about a third of the products contained hazardous chemicals at levels of concern. 

Last but not least, given the ultra-low price offerings of some of the cross-border e-commerce platforms, overconsumption and waste loom large as a concern, as it is commonplace for retailers to destroy new yet returned goods.

Join us and urge Temu to break the silence

It has become common practice for major e-commerce companies to disclose their climate impacts and make a climate and renewable energy commitment. Some have also made policies on chemicals management and packaging reduction. It is time for Temu, arguably one of the world’s most popular e-commerce companies in the current market, to join them.

Meanwhile, we believe that by demonstrating climate transparency, consumers are enabled to make informed choices aligned with their environmental values. Access to such information is essential for every shopper’s decision-making process.

So that’s why we’re asking Temu and its parent company, PDD Holdings, to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, including those from key processes on its value chains such as transportation of its products. Knowing and sharing the information will also help Temu to make overarching climate and environmental strategies and commitments, which are crucial for the long-term prospects of the company – and the planet.

The new year has arrived. Why not set a new year resolution for yourself? Join us in unmuting Temu, saving the planet, and choosing wisely. Sign the petition here.

By the Platforms4Good Team based in Greenpeace East Asia