In today’s society, our daily lives are moving fast forward. People usually feel they do not have enough time to finish their job assignments for the day, to go back home and take care of their houses and families and also to relax. Living in the era of speed, there is a little ‘treasure’ called online shopping that seems to be a refreshing ray of light. Express delivery usually offers competitive advantage for the retailers and may be even offered for free in order to attract more customers. Recent NASDAQ statistics show that approximately 87% of UK customers have bought at least one product online in the past 12 months. But what are the environmental implications of such a convenient and accessible way of shopping? And what better period of the year to discuss about them than the Holiday Season?
Imagine the following scenario: tomorrow is your grandmother’s birthday and she is hosting a dinner to celebrate with her family and friends. It is also a very busy period at work, and you do not have enough time to go shopping, visiting different stores in the search for the perfect gift. Therefore you go online and after 20 minutes you are about to place an order. The express shipping option is your life vest, as the gift will be at your door the next morning, right on time for the celebration. Most of the online shoppers would place the order without even thinking twice. But do they know how harmful their action is for the wellbeing of planet Earth? I presume they do not realize that overnight delivery often requires extra packaging materials. Usually, those items need special boxes or envelopes which are not reusable and have seals that require destroying the packaging in order to open it.
But packaging is not the only concern. For express deliveries, companies usually have to arrange special transportation which implies sending half empty cargos to deliver the products or even have the packages delivered by plane. Deliveries are therefore not grouped together and this leads to an incredible increase in the pollution levels, as more trips are needed in order to please the customers. Airplanes deliver their combustion emissions directly into higher areas of the atmosphere and currently, 2% of the global CO2 emission come from airplanes.
Are there greener options for delivery? In 1998, UPS collaborated with a group called Environmental Defense in order to make express shipping less harmful for the environment. Measures were taken in terms of quantities of packaging material and introduction of around 22% recycled materials in their envelopes and boxes. Moreover, the wastewater discharge has been cut by 15%. Not only those action were positive in terms of environmental impact, but they significantly reduced the company’s costs, saving around $1 million annually.
Another incredible solution may be the usage of 100% electric trucks such as the Mercedes-Benz Electric Truck, with an admissible weight of 26 tones. This way, in the future, heavy trucks will take part in urban distribution operations with zero local emissions. But how many companies are willing to pay significant money in order to switch from a traditional mode of transportation to an overall electrical truck?
Another interesting way of solving the express delivery impact on Mother Earth is called virtual delivery. Usually used for delivering overnight electronic versions of documents, it is an excellent way of cutting the amount of paper waste in terms of buying and sending gift cards or birthday cards. So, next time you wish to offer a dear one a great present, you may choose the virtual delivery option. It is harmless, cheap and fast!
To conclude with, how can we make people understand the importance of choosing a traditional delivery option? A change in culture is needed both by the consumer and the supplier. Maybe clearer labeling of the damaging implications of express delivery should be stated at the checkout, so that people would realize the impact of their actions. We, the consumers, need to educate ourselves and be able to wait one or two more days for the product to be delivered, while the companies can improve their packaging methods in order to benefit both the environment and their profits. Technology is probably the key in reducing pollution caused by deliveries, but there is a downside: the relatively new technology of electrical trucks is still to be developed and the costs implied are probably going to be a bit higher than the traditional ones.
Labmate-online.com. (2017). How to Reduce the Environmental Impact of Online Shopping Labmate Online. [online] Available at: https://www.labmate-online.com/news/business-news/44/breaking-news/how-to-reduce-the-environmental-impact-of-online-shopping/44577
World, G. (2017). Environmental Impact of Overnight Shipping and Greener Delivery Options. [online] GreenWorld365. Available at: http://www.greenworld365.com/overnight-shipping-green-delivery-options/
HuffPost UK. (2017). Why You Should Think Twice About Choosing Free 2-Day Shipping For Online Shopping. [online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/2-day-shipping-environment_us_5a0e1374e4b045cf43706864?utm_hp_ref=sustainability/