Research Underlines Environmental Cost of Next-Day Delivery

Credit: Oscar Cooksey-Nash

I think shopping online is fantastic, it’s convenient, easy and arrives so fast! When the delivery comes through your door, the unwrapping of a parcel can feel almost like opening a  gift – even if it’s something mundane like some new pillowcases. 

Researchers have found that online shipping is twice as “fun” as traditional shopping because your brain releases the happy hormone serotonin. You get an initial dose of serotonin when you click buy and another when your parcel arrives at your doors. Much more enjoyable than standing in line at the mall, right?  

As consumer patterns are shifting towards online shopping, accelerated by Covid-19, I was interested to find out just how green e-commerce as compared to traditional shopping.  

So, I’ve put together a guide on the potential harms of shopping online – and how to  avoid them.  

How Green is Online Delivery? 

The ecological cost of e-commerce has dramatically shifted over the years. Initial research highlighted how shopping for books online had a lower delivery impact than going in-store  (Matthews et al., 2001).  

Since then, research from MIT has found that online delivery is a greener alternative to traditional shopping but only when the shipping process is slow (Weideli et al., 2013). That means no express delivery.  

In recent years e-commerce has soared and become much more sophisticated as consumers buy a great deal more online and delivery times have become a lot shorter.  

Next Day Delivery, What’s the Harm?  

It’s easy to see why express delivery has become ubiquitous in the online retail sector. Thanks to logistical wizardry, with one click, your consumer desires are fulfilled within hours. This speedy delivery comes at an environmental cost. 

Packaging Waste 

Have you ever noticed that if you order two separate items, they don’t often arrive in the same package? That’s because when you order multiple items through express delivery,  they are likely coming from two separate facilities across the country. This results in a new cardboard box for every purchase. A study of Walmart found CO2 emissions of products are  35% higher on products when shipped separately than when shipped together.  

Empty Vans 

To meet the pressing time demands, shipping vans no longer consolidate their load and will start their transit even if they are only partially full. This means more pollution as vans will make numerous trips between hubs and homes.  

Unfortunately, online retailers are not doing enough to inform their customers of the hidden environmental costs that they promote. 

It’s important to note that online shopping can be much better for the environment than traditional shopping. As soon as you choose “next day delivery”, things change. 

So, if you want to reduce your CO2 emissions you may have to wait a few days. But through innovation, it is possible to change this. We believe that there are innovations available that can reduce emissions while keeping “same-day delivery” intact. 

Don’t you think there is a better model than our current delivery service?