How Does Next Day Delivery Affect the Environment?
Oct 28 2020
As people in the UK and across the world have been forced to adjust to lockdown measures implemented to avoid the spread of coronavirus, online retail has enjoyed a sharp increase in demand. With consumers prevented from entering brick-and-mortar stores, more and more shoppers have been migrating online to get their retail therapy fix.
While studies have shown that having items delivered to your door can actually be more environmentally friendly than fetching them yourself – especially if you drive a car to do so – the benefits soon fall away if you choose express delivery. That’s because the shorter time window does not allow vendors to consolidate orders and risks them sending out delivery trucks at less than full capacity, thus precipitating the need for more journeys and increasing the overall emissions from the sector.
Sustainability sacrificed for convenience
A recent study from the University of California has investigated the carbon footprint of online shopping, with particular regard to what happens when customers select the “next-day delivery” option. Often offered for a small discretionary charge, this feature was pioneered by Amazon but has since become standard practice for many retailers, appealing to a consumer’s desire for instant gratification.
What many shoppers might not think about when choosing a faster delivery method is the impact it has on the environment. If a vendor has a five-day window in which to dispatch the order, they can wait for all items in the order to arrive to the depot, as well as combine the delivery with any other orders in its vicinity. This ensures that delivery trucks depart more fully packed and the overall number of journeys is kept to a minimum.
This is especially true when dealing with urban epicentres, as an increased number of trucks on the road can contribute to traffic jams and exacerbate air quality issues, which become even more pronounced during winter. Harmful gases like nitrogen oxides (NOx), ozone and particulate matter (PM) can contaminate the airways and cause grave respiratory problems for those living in the surrounding area.
A greener way
Instead of instinctively selecting the fastest option when it comes to delivery, the authors behind the UC report suggest that it might be more prudent for consumers to consider whether they really do need the items expeditiously. If the need is not so pressing, giving the manufacturer or supplier more time to handle the order will allow them to choose the most efficient and environmentally friendly method of delivery.
Of course, an ideal scenario would see such journeys have their carbon footprint reduced to zero, and although we are on the road to a green future with environmentally friendly road transportation through electric vehicles (EVs) and other alternatives, the transport sector is still responsible for a significant amount of emissions. For that reason, the report’s authors suggest e-commerce sites should include a “green delivery option” to make it as easy as possible for the consumer to do the right thing.
E-commerce is already the fastest growing segment of the retail sector in the UK, Europe and North America. Last year, the UK had the lion’s share of online sales in Europe at a cumulative £76 billion, with that figure estimated to push £100 billion this year.
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