April 26, 2021
In the Media

"As I’ve since learned, the consensus among independent researchers is that online shopping can in fact be much less damaging to the environment than traditional, in-store shopping—but only if we do it the right way.

But that potential efficiency lies in tension with shoppers’ fatal attraction to e-commerce’s rapid delivery. When we choose same-day or next-day delivery, we alter the efficiency equation. Josué Velázquez Martínez, director of the Sustainable Logistics Initiative at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, described the impact: “When you add the challenge of fast shipping, then you cannot get the benefit of consolidation. You are actually obliged to go multiple times, on multiple days, to the same location.” He said the delivery vehicles can go from 80% full to just 10% or 20%—a “really substantial” drop that can completely erode the emissions benefits of online shopping.

To my relief, cardboard and bubble wrap are not a major part of the problem..."


"The fact that corporations prioritize customer satisfaction is nothing new or surprising, but it was striking to me (and to van Loon) that such a gulf could exist between what e-tailers think customers want and what they actually do want.

Yet Velázquez and his students have found evidence that the gulf is real. They created what they call the Green Button Project for a major retailer in Mexico. When a shopper clicked the buy button, they were shown one of several different questions. For example, one question asked whether they would accept slower shipping if it meant lower CO₂ emissions; another, whether a shopper would accept slower shipping if it saved the equivalent of a certain number of trees. (The tree figure was calculated as the number of trees it would take to capture the amount of CO₂ generated by fast shipping, Velázquez said.)

The company’s belief, Velázquez said, was that shoppers “wouldn’t care—everybody wants everything fast now.” Yet when shown the tree option, 71% of shoppers agreed to the slower shipping. And that was true across all demographic groups, not just those known to prioritize environmental concerns. “The other ways we’ve been trying to communicate environmental impacts, like providing kilograms of CO₂ or other ways to communicate this with chemical information, are actually not useful for the consumer,” Velázquez said, “but once you provide something that is meaningful to them, like number of trees, consumers are willing to do it. People are really excited.”

Unfortunately, a clearly labeled, environmentally friendly shipping opt-in is not a practice that’s been widely adopted, Velázquez added. “It would be fantastic to see Amazon or Walmart or any other monster of e-commerce actually measure the transport emissions, get the estimates of the impacts of fast shipping online or shopping in-store, and then display this information to consumers so they can make an educated decision.”

One economic reward that does already exist for e-tailers and delivery companies is a shift to electric delivery vehicles..."