In Retail

Here’s the conundrum:  Consumers want to be green.  They also want it fast.  But the two concepts are pretty much incompatible.

How important is green?  According to the Global Sustainability Report, 66 percent of consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable brands.  And according to Cone Communications, a 2017 survey found that 87% of consumers in the US are inclined to purchase products from businesses who advocate for environmental responsibility.

Unfortunately, Amazon has trained us to demand and expect fast.  Amazon Prime members say that the free two-day shipping is key to why they became members.  And once someone is a Prime member, they spend more of their retail dollars via Amazon, siphoning away business from brick and mortars.

But delivery speed isn’t environmentally friendly.  It puts more diesel spewing trucks on the roads, uses more air carriers, and reduces opportunities for freight consolidation. Says Miguel Jaller, co-director of the Sustainable Freight Research Center and an environmental studies professor at UC Davis, “With one-hour or two-hour delivery, there is no time for companies to consolidate shipments.  And that means more vehicles, more emissions, and more health impacts.”

Usually, online shopping has a lower carbon footprint than shopping by driving to a store. But not always.  Somewhere between 12 and 60 percent of all deliveries are unsuccessful on the first try, so delivery trucks often make a second or third attempt or make the consumer pick it up at the warehouse or post office. And some 20% of all products purchased online are returned, which can double the carbon footprint.

So what is a multi-channel retailer to do, given the conflicting demands of speed and sustainability?

Introduce the idea to your customers that slower is greener.    This could include:

  • Displaying the carbon footprint for each shipping or pick-up option
  • Adding a “Ship it Green” button on the shopping cart page
  • Adding information about how slower deliveries are more environmentally friendly
  • Offering the ability to purchase carbon offsets for speedy deliveries

Or you could explore innovative last mile alternatives, be it bicycle deliveries, drones, Uber-like delivery services or robots!

The bottom line

Online shopping can be greener than driving to the store. Novel last-mile alternatives to conventional delivery trucks stand to make it even more environmentally friendly.

Encourage your customers to think about what they need and when they need it, so they don’t have to order individual products at the last minute. If retailers bundle orders, and consumers avoid the speediest delivery options, together, we can make retail purchases less of a factor in climate change.

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