Environmental impact of fast shipping
by Rockwell Sands @

The Environmental Impact of Fast and Free Shipping

Consumers may want their items delivered as soon as possible, but no one considers the impact that fast shipping has on the environment

Have you purchased anything online recently? If you answered yes, think about how soon you received it. We’d be willing to bet it was only within a couple of days. Nowadays, consumers want their products delivered right away. They expect fast shipping, and often expect it to be free. Huge eCommerce companies such as Amazon continue to perpetuate this paradigm by building out networks and moving closer to one-day shipping. As a result, online businesses are pushing to offer their customers the quickest delivery times possible. However, rush shipping has a damaging impact on a victim we never think about when we click the “buy” button: the environment.

Why Rush Shipping Has a Negative Environmental Impact

Rush shipping has a negative impact on the environment because of the massive amount of vehicles and methods of transport it takes to make it happen. Think about it: faster shipping requires air transport, and planes are some of the heaviest polluters in the world. As rush shipping continues to become the precedent in the industry, more planes will be required to deliver goods. Amazon has even broken ground on an airport in Kentucky to make shipping times as quick as possible across the country. More planes means more pollution, plain and simple.

In addition, rush shipping means less efficiency across supply chains. For example, Amazon and other carriers are starting to rely more on private delivery partners on top of the major carriers. Think of those partners a bit like Uber and Lyft drivers, except for delivering packages. Unlike a worker from USPS, UPS, or FedEx, these private delivery partners sometimes only deliver one package at a time. This means there are more vehicles on the road, and as a result, more greenhouse gasses released into the atmosphere.

UPS’ Director of Global Sustainability Patrick Browne offered a direct quote on the inefficiencies that rush shipping creates, and its impact on the environment.

“Time in transit has a direct impact on the environment,” Brown said. “The more time you allow us to deliver that package, the more efficient we can be with our network.”

The Solution: Giving Customers a Gentle “Nudge”

All in all, the issue at hand is: how can we offer rush shipping while protecting the environment?

The answer could be as simple as “nudging” customers to make more environmentally-friendly choices when shopping online. Here’s a couple examples of what we mean, listed out below.

The Green Box Theory

The basic idea behind the “Green Box Theory” is playing on peer pressure. Some companies have begun experimenting with the idea of creating green boxes to signify packages that were shipped in slower, more environmentally-friendly ways. People will undoubtedly notice these boxes sitting on their neighbor’s porches and doorsteps. As a result, green boxes will act as sort of a nudge for people to choose the greener shipping option when purchasing items online.

Think about it this way: no one wants to be the one person on the block to get brown packages when everyone else’s are green.

MIT’s “Would You Be Willing to Wait?” Study

A second, more tangible solution would be to educate customers in a simple way when they are ready to make online purchases. An MIT study conducted in 2018 aptly called “Would You Be Willing to Wait?” shows that consumers would be willing to wait longer if they were educated about the harmful environmental impact that faster shipping has. To be exact, when customers saw that slower shipping speeds would result in saving 25 trees (as opposed to zero trees saved with rush shipping), 52% of them were willing to wait longer for their shipment to arrive.

The results of the MIT study speak for themselves: if you give customers the choice to make a more environmentally-friendly decision, they often will.

It’s Time for eCommerce to Go Green

At the end of the day, the state of the global environment is looming over all of our heads. All around the world, people are taking measures to “go green” across countless industries. Considering how much of an impact that delivering packages has on the environment, the shipping industry shouldn’t be any different.

In the grand scheme of things, maybe one-day shipping isn’t so important. Maybe customers can wait a couple of days, if it means creating a more sustainable future. Who knows how much better off our planet would be if eCommerce went green?


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