E-commerce consumers “are much more attached to the logistical process,” said Travis Fried, a researcher at the University of Washington’s Urban Freight Lab. “We have much more control and much more power on those logistical decisions.”
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The potential environmental benefits of shopping online largely stem from retailers having enough time to fully load delivery trucks before sending them out, experts say.
Fast shipping can make this challenging.
“Typically, when the delivery company has to deliver as quickly as possible — same-day or next-day shipping — it doesn’t give them a lot of time to effectively load their van,” Fried said.
That means trucks might not be filled to capacity and drivers could be taking less efficient routes to meet delivery times, wasting fuel. For example, a delivery truck might wind up making multiple trips to your neighborhood in the same day or have to go across town to finish shipments.
“When you defer your package to a different delivery date, it allows more time for the company to pool their loads better on their vans,” Fried said.
To meet growing demand for faster delivery times while also addressing the potential efficiency trade-off, more major online retailers are looking at building last-mile delivery stations closer to where packages are being ordered, Fried said. Amazon, for instance, notes that items with the option for same-day delivery are shipped from warehouses near recipients, meaning these packages could get to customers faster and with less emissions, according to a spokesperson for the company. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
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Opting for slower shipping could also help retailers consolidate your orders into fewer boxes, cutting back on packaging and reducing the number of trips. Experts recommend trying to bundle orders instead of receiving separate deliveries. One way to do this is by placing a single order of multiple items from the same supplier.
At checkout, you could also look for an option to schedule your deliveries for the same day. For example, if you have an order with several items and the default option is for them to be delivered on different days, you could delay shipping and choose to have everything you’ve bought arrive on one day.
But while consumers have control over these choices, Fried said online retail companies and even local governments should be finding more ways to push shoppers toward more planet-friendly delivery options.
Perhaps, he said, people might choose differently if they knew how much emissions various shipping options could generate at checkout. Companies could also give discounts to customers who pick packages up at parcel lockers or delay deliveries.