The rise in online shopping has been one of the few silver linings of the devastating global pandemic. You might have seen an increase in new online customers, or been able to offset the decline in your in-store transactions. 

According to Accenture, online orders have increased 82% in the APAC region and 71% in Europe due to Covid-19. And experts believe this growth is here to stay as consumers form new purchasing habits. Pitney Bowes expects global shipping volumes to more than double in the next five years to reach 200 billion by 2025. 

This is good news for you and the people you employ, but not the environment, which is heavily affected by the growing carbon footprint of delivery. 

Based on current eCommerce growth rates, the World Economic Forum estimates that the number of delivery vehicles in the 100 largest cities globally will increase 36 per cent over the next 10 years. This will result in a 32% increase in emissions from delivery traffic and a 21% increase in congestion, equating to an additional 11 minutes in commute time for each passenger every day. 

The main reason for this is urban freight, which has a disproportionately high impact on emissions and congestion, according to the World Economic Forum. Trucks represent around two thirds of all delivery vehicles on city roads today, and they will still account for the majority of delivery vehicles in 2030. While it may be possible to replace some of this volume with bikes, electric scooters, drones and droids over the next 10 years, each of these alternatives brings its own set of challenges, such as the regulation and enforcement of air traffic.

One thing you can already do to address the carbon footprint of delivery is carbon offsetting. Etsy now offsets 100% of the carbon emissions it generates from shipping, and Amazon is working towards a goal of delivering 50% of shipments with net zero carbon by 2030. Shippit offsets 100% of the carbon emitted from deliveries sent using our discounted courier rates at no extra cost to users. 

But offsetting can’t be the only solution. The goal should be to generate fewer carbon emissions in the first place. Luckily, new methods of fulfilment make this possible without compromising the growth of eCommerce.


How store-based fulfilment reduces emissions

Online orders have traditionally been sent from warehouses or distribution centres on the outskirts of cities to the customer’s doorstep. But increasingly, to enable faster delivery, orders are being picked, packed and shipped from retail stores located closer to customers. 

Some stores have even been turned into dark stores for the sole purpose of fulfilling online orders. During Covid-19, this practice became widespread, and even now that most stores are open again, some dark stores will undoubtedly remain. 

While the primary purpose of store-based fulfilment is faster shipping, it has the added benefit of reducing the carbon footprint of delivery due to the shorter routes involved. 

Another environmentally friendly fulfilment method is pick-up, drop-off (PUDO), which allows customers to send their online order to a pharmacy, convenience store or other type of business, instead of a home or work address. They might do this because they won’t be home to accept the delivery, or are unable to receive parcels at work, but the end result is that couriers can drop off and pick up several items at once, rather than delivering each one to an individual address. This cuts down on driving and therefore carbon emissions.

In the short term, Covid-19 may actually have led to a decline in PUDO, since people are working from home more often and no longer in danger of missing a delivery. But long-term, it will remain an efficient way to manage growing parcel volumes.

Beyond these fairly mainstream fulfilment methods, various cities and businesses are testing autonomous robot vehicles, trunk delivery, smart storage stations and other innovative ways to reduce the carbon footprint of delivery.  

One thing is certain, the continued growth of e-commerce and rising consumer expectations around sustainability will only make this topic more important in the years ahead.