When customers use social networks to find package pick-up points, greenhouse gas emissions decline by 45 to 98 percent compared to a typical home delivery route, researchers at the University of Minnesota and Seoul National University say.
The GHG reductions depend on the social connectedness of the recipients and the willingness of individuals in their social networks to participate, according to the article published in Environmental Science and Technology.
The new research comes as online retailers such as Amazon begin introducing delivery pickup lockers in grocery, convenience and drug stores.
The study focused on the “last mile” of local package delivery associated with online purchases, which the authors say is online shopping’s largest contributor to fossil fuel consumption, CO2 and local air emissions. While replacing traditional home truck delivery with pickup locations can help in some instances, in the suburbs this increases travel distances and emissions as personal vehicles take extra trips to make the pickup.
The solution, according to the article, is social networking.
The study used spatial and agent-based models to investigate the potential environmental benefits of enlisting social networks to help deliver packages. Results indicate that very small degrees of network engagement can lead to large efficiency gains.
The important piece is that sharing be allowed in the delivery systems — not how many participate in the network, says study co-author Timothy Smith, director of University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise (NiSE).
NiSE works with the private sector to reduce the impacts of production and consumption. It forecasts global production and consumption systems will quadruple in the coming decades as the “consuming class” grows from 1.8 billion people in 2009 to nearly 4.9 billion by 2030.
In April, FedEx Express launched a carbon-neutral shipping program for its most widely used packaging for document shipping.
Earlier this month, Unilever and DHL Supply Chain announced a series of initiatives — include developing technology to improve carbon efficiency and reduce waste within global logistics operations — that the companies say will increase sustainable practices and the speed of bringing products to market.