Climate Action

What is the environmental cost of express shipping deliveries?

Recent data from the University of California addresses the environmental impact of online shopping, indicating that speed deliveries have a heavier carbon footprint than slower ones.

  • 08 January 2018
  • Websolutions

Recent data from the University of California addresses the environmental impact of online shopping, indicating that speed deliveries have a heavier carbon footprint than slower ones.

The University of California, in partnership with Vox, has launched a series of climate-related videos attempting to raise awareness about climate change and how individuals can change their behaviour to contribute to climate action.

In a recent video, the host M. Sanjayan, Chief Executive Officer at Conservation International, a US based environmental organisation, made the case of how express delivery creates more environmental pressure than regular 5 day deliveries.

Although research has indicated that online shipping has indeed a smaller carbon footprint than traditional shopping which would make individuals drive to the store, if one chooses the option of express delivery then this is no longer the case. .

Miguel Jaller from the University of California (US Davis) explains: “If you know you have a 5-day delivery window, you can wait for all the products to come in from different sources, consolidate the shipment and send it. You can also wait for more customer orders and consolidate that into a full-truck load”.

In a nutshell, the new analysis suggests that extending the shipping period allows the companies to use the most efficient and environmentally friendly ways of delivering the goods. Options such as next-day delivery forces companies to send out trucks which aren’t at full capacity,

In addition, Mr. Sanjayan posed the environmental effect of the free-returns option which incentivises impulse buying without considering the environmental aspect.

He said: "If I shop online and pick that 'try before you buy' option, it'd be the same as saying a delivery truck is driving back and forth just to find me the right stuff”.

Companies have been trying to reduce their carbon footprint in terms of efficient technologies, electric vehicles or powering warehouses with renewable energy. However, an additional step could be triggering customer behaviour and spreading environmental awareness across consumers.

M. Sanjayan, suggests that  companies offer a “green shipping” option at the checkout, reminding customers that there is a more sustainable way of doing things while allowing companies to reduce their carbon footprint.

Online shopping is set to become more popular in the future creating an increasing need to address transportation emissions that derive from this trend. For example, US Postal Services deliveries have increased by 65 percent. During holiday seasons, the packages delivered have increased from approximately 400 million in 2010 to 700 million in 2016.

You can watch the full “The environmental cost of free two-day shipping” of the Climate Lab series here