At home deliveries rose exponentially through the pandemic, both in the retail and the food sectors. We adopted a new lifestyle where we became reliant on one click next day, same day and even same hour deliveries. The positive effects have been felt across many industries (from delivery companies to fast food outlets) – with research from Metapack suggesting that online home deliveries will add a staggering £20 billion more to the UK market by 2025.
As with everything there is a flip side – in this case, the massive environmental impact caused by this shift in consumer behaviour. Amazon for example has the carbon footprint of a small country – shifting more than 10 billion items each year. The UK alone is now generating 160 parcels every second or over five billion each year. Each person is now generating 74 parcels against a worldwide average of 34. Factor in parcels not being delivered first time and returns (which in the US for example account for 15 million metric tons of CO2 emitted from transportation alone) and this really will become a serious environmental issue if something is not done about it.
Before we get into a blame game, I would say that businesses aren’t entirely responsible for fixing the problem – they have been meeting consumer demand (a demand they and the pandemic accelerated). Most consumers won’t think about the consequences of their quick-click actions and the fact that their deliveries certainly aren’t free when it comes to the damage they are doing to the planet. The solution needs a joined-up approach – businesses need to do their part in adopting more environmentally friendly ways of delivering goods and consumers need to take more responsibility for their actions.
So how can this be done?
Changing face of retail – many physical retail stores are promoting more eco-friendly ways of shopping like parcel drop stores. Collect+, for example, is a network of locations made up of thousands of newsagents, convenience stores, supermarkets and petrol stations, that makes sending and receiving parcels convenient and helps reduce the carbon footprint. This is just the start of how collections will be built into the kerbside moving forward. Expect businesses and retailers to make this a part of their physical set up more permanently.
Micro-fulfilment – Retailers across the US and Europe (from Puma to Ocado) are exploring how robotics will change the way they store goods and serve the last mile with ‘micro-fulfilment centres’. These centres essentially bring smart warehouses, that utilise bots and robotics, to local stores or create locations to fulfil local orders as well as local store pick-ups using smart cubic storage technology to reduce the amount of space needed to store products. This means businesses can store more goods in less space, allow local customers to collect orders within the last mile from their local stores, whilst reducing the distance lorries are travelling to transport goods and orders.
Autonomous deliveries – Robots have landed in the UK with companies like Starship utilising advanced autonomous devices that can carry items over short distances. Their delivery platform (I liken them as hi-tech cool boxes on wheels) allows consumers to have parcels, groceries and food directly delivered from stores, at the time that they want via a mobile app. Once ordered the robots’ entire journey and location can be monitored on a smartphone. Naturally, there is an environmental benefit that consumers aren’t hopping in their cars to go on a short hop to get their goods.
Consumers need to change their behaviours, but they are unlikely to do this without a ‘nudge’. While they are not going to take away the ‘free’ deliveries and returns, they could find other ways to create positive change. By using nudge theory, businesses could reverse the change they have helped accelerate. Highlighting the impact of their customers’ shopping and asking them to do it less might seem counterintuitive, but it would help encourage positive action.
During the pandemic, Amazon offered a £1 ‘no-rush delivery’ offer (where goods were shipped together), but they might have been better off just helping consumers understand the impact of their actions, rather than financially incentivising them. For example, they could have highlighted how much CO2 would be saved by having items at the end of a week, rather than across a few days. Using behavioural science to alter consumer behaviour could be one way to help reduce delivery companies’ contribution to the climate crisis.
Whether you are a business owner or a consumer there is always something you can do to help the planet. So next time you are clicking away and buying something online, stop and think about the impact of your actions – every little helps.