How our ‘Want it Now’ Mentality is Destroying the Planet

Brandi Smith, Marketing Director

On the surface, online shopping seems like it could be greener than taking a trip to the store — it eliminates car trips and associated carbon emissions. In fact, a study from MIT’s Center for Transportation and Logistics calculated that the carbon footprint of a traditional shopper purchasing a toy in a store is higher than that of someone who buys the same thing online with regular shipping. This is because parcel carriers use a more efficient delivery system than you or I driving to the mall, and the carbon footprint of a website is smaller than that of a brick-and-mortar store.

However, with the tremendous shift in shipping standards over the last two decades this has changed dramatically. They have tightened from a week to a few days to two days and, now, to one day or even just hours. Online retail giants offering the ability to shop from the comfort of your home and get your products in what seems to be almost instantly have established this incredibly high new standard. And it’s not going to change, especially with younger generations not knowing any different. We all seem to want it and want it now. What many of us don’t realize is that the perk of this convenience can drastically expand the carbon footprint of an online sale.

Faster shipping – overnight or same day — comes with a hefty price tag for the planet in more ways than one. Why? Because it completely changes what's needed to get your order to you, and that drastically increases the environmental impact in the process — the same MIT study found online shopping with rush delivery was less environmentally friendly than going to the store. This is because with normal shipping, retailers consolidate their orders into as few boxes as possible, pack trucks as full as possible, and carriers choose the most efficient routes to make as many deliveries as possible over the shortest distance – supply chain heaven!  

With faster shipping, all of this becomes far more difficult or impossible. Trucks are emptier because they have to deliver to fewer customers who are further apart in order to meet shipping commitments and deadlines. This means more trucks driving longer distances for every delivery and more traffic congestion on the roads. This creates more air pollution, including nitrous oxides and particulates, and is a significant contributor to global warming through carbon dioxide emissions. In fact, transportation accounts for 1.8 million metric tons of emissions and 23% of these emissions come from medium to heavy duty trucks.

So, what can we do as businesses and consumers when it comes to selecting more planet-friendly shipping options? Here are some ideas:

Change our standards and expectations as consumers

We as a society need to increase our consciousness around delivery expectations and think twice before choosing the fastest delivery option available. When ordering a product that requires shipping, ask yourself, “Do I really NEED this tomorrow, or can I wait a couple of extra days?” Chances are, you can wait, and your need is simply a want. Just remember what that instant gratification pull will do to the environment and the future of our planet the next time you select one day shipping.

Offer green shipping options at checkout

For companies, it’s time to discontinue offering the quickest shipping option at checkout. Provide customers with shipping options that are more environmentally conscious, like ShipperBee, that may take a couple of days longer to arrive. ShipperBee is a first-of-its-kind end-to-end delivery system that’s changing the way parcels are shipped regionally — that’s better for people and the planet. We leverage a collaborative delivery driver network and tap into the unused space in their vehicles to move parcels. This network is filled with people already on the road like commuters, road trippers, students, retirees and stay-at-home parents. By leveraging their unused vehicle space, we reduce carbon emissions by up to 70%+ per parcel. Making this simple shift in how we deliver parcels at a regional level will make a big impact on our environment and the future of our planet. You can read more about it here in our Founders blog, The Future of Shipping.

Incentivize and reinforce your customer’s choice

The shipping itself doesn’t have to be focused solely on the carrier and shipment time, however. You can also leverage greener shipping options as a loyalty mechanism. You can offer small incentives to your customers that tie back to your business and encourage them to come back to shop again. When customers do select the “green” shipping option you can reinforce the choice by changing the color of the box or put a symbol on it to continue to play on the level of conscious support and protection of the environment. When consumers believe they are doing something good, like helping the environment, their impatience disappears.

Select eco-friendly materials

All paper starts with trees and trees remove carbon dioxide from the air. Reuse the boxes you receive from shipments coming into your business. When purchasing boxes, select those that are made from recycled materials. And skip the old standby when it comes to Styrofoam to insulate and product products. It can be hazardous for the environment in a series of ways. It’s a petroleum-based product that is non-sustainable and generates a tremendous amount of waste during the manufacturing process. Instead, select fibrous blocking materials such as corrugated inserts. The bonus is that biodegradable filler can be competitive in price compared to traditional packing peanuts at just $2 more per 20-cubic foot bag.

Size does matter when it comes to shipping

Reducing the size and volume of packaging not only uses fewer materials, it also takes up less space on a truck, thus improving the carbon footprint. More compact packaging can also help your bottom line by cutting material costs. Always pack your products in as small a parcel as possible — without jeopardizing the safety of the products being shipped of course. Don’t use a large box if a small box or a padded envelope can just as easily get your product from A to B in one piece.

In the end, if every consumer and business took these simple steps not only will everyone save money, but we’ll all be contributing to a healthier environment too. A healthier environment means a healthier future for us all.

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