4 Ways Retailers Can Embrace Sustainable Last-Mile Delivery
There's an urgent need to increase sustainable shipping practices among e-commerce retailers. Research shows e-commerce has grown two to five times faster than before the pandemic. And while this surge in online shopping has been positive for retailers, fulfilling these orders has material consequences for the environment. In fact, the World Economic Forum predicts emissions from delivery traffic could increase by 32 percent to meet consumers’ online shopping habits. Fortunately, retailers and their last-mile delivery partners are uniquely positioned to make big strides toward sustainability and reducing their carbon footprint.
Here are four ways retailers can embrace more sustainable last-mile deliveries:
1. Cut down on packaging waste.
There would never be a world where packaging is completely eliminated, but conscious shifts in the materials used and how items are shipped can make a positive impact. Low-lift decisions can include making a switch to eco-friendly materials, such as biodegradable shipping peanuts, mushroom packaging and honeycomb paper wrap.
Consider the size of your packaging and whether it’s needed at all. Cutting down on the size of your boxes or envelopes saves on material costs and on shipping itself. Smaller package sizes mean last-mile delivery providers can deliver more orders in a single trip and reduce their carbon emissions. By shipping goods in appropriately sized packages, retailers cut waste and save consumers space in their recycling bins.
2. Reassess return policies.
E-commerce returns grew by 95 percent between 2014 and 2019, setting off a costly and volatile cycle that has yet to stabilize. In 2020, just over 10 percent of retail goods sold in the U.S. were returned, amounting to over $400 billion in lost sales. These are hard numbers to face, and it still isn’t taking into account the environmental impact of reverse logistics.
A few simple changes to your return policy can have a big impact in the long run. For example, clothing retailers can reduce returns by providing accurate measurements and size recommendations on their websites. Implementing return fees and limited return windows can also prompt shoppers to carefully consider purchases and eliminate unnecessary return trips.
3. Evaluate your shipping provider and fleet.
Urban last-mile delivery emissions are on track to increase by over 30 percent by 2030, with an expected uptick in delivery vehicles of 36 percent across the top 100 cities globally. With online shopping increasing and more delivery vehicles omitting carbon emissions, the retail industry needs to rethink how consumers receive their goods — that means taking a closer look at what third-party logistics (3PL) providers are doing.
Fortunately, some 3PLs are doing their part by rolling out all-electric delivery fleets to decrease greenhouse gas and carbon emissions. Another thing to evaluate is whether your logistics partner utilizes real-time tracking technology. Not only do tracking capabilities give delivery transparency to you and your customer, they also help decrease the frequency of missed deliveries and the need for additional trips (and the extra emissions they cause).
4. Choose partners in a circular supply chain.
Retailers have a lot of power to motivate change, and achieving sustainability requires partnering with companies that prioritize green practices. One step is updating RFPs to raise the bar of sustainability for 3PL partners. Building sustainability into your RFP process sets higher eco-friendly standards and weeds out providers that don’t align with your company’s sustainability values.
In addition, seek out logistics providers that employ distributed networks — i.e., a spoke-hub model where products are stored in connected, centralized locations. Going further, look for 3PLs operating a circular supply chain wherein they handle warehousing, fulfillment, last-mile and white-glove delivery services, returns, and the recycling or donation of returned products.
Online shopping is on the rise, and two-thirds of global shoppers have made changes to be more sustainable; it’s time now for retailers to match their commitment. Whether it’s switching to eco-friendly packaging or partnering with a sustainability-minded 3PL partner, brands can take small but impactful steps to prioritize sustainable last-mile deliveries and increase their environmental sustainability.
Mark Ang co-founded GoBolt, a technology-enabled logistics and last-mile delivery provider.