May 2, 2019

Is e-commerce making climate change worse?


E-commerce & Climate Change

Is e-commerce making climate change worse? – The notion of getting in your car and driving somewhere to buy whatever you need (or want) is growing increasingly foreign to many consumers, as online shopping offers a limitless selection of items, free shipping and in some cases, nearly-instant delivery. No parking lots, no long lines, no prying eyes from nosy fellow shoppers—what’s not to love about e-commerce? The advantages are enticing, but what environmental consequences have we unleashed from Pandora’s box in our rush to have everything we want rushed to our door?

We’re beyond the point of climate change sneaking up on anyone at this point—with record-setting natural disasters coming fast and furious across the globe and the last five consecutive years being the hottest on record according to data accrued from NOAA and NASA. Some cities in the Southwest like Las Vegas, El Paso, and Tucson have even seen their average temperatures rise by nearly 6 degrees since 1970! And according to the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, there’s now more CO2 in the atmosphere than there has been in more than 3 million years. So where does e-commerce fit into this complex puzzle of climate change?

Online order fulfillment dictates the need for extensive last-mile services to fulfill the final delivery portion of orders that are promised to consumers anywhere from 2 days to 2 hours out. These last-mile trips are often much more than a single mile and are typically performed using larger diesel-powered delivery trucks that produce higher levels of air pollutants than typical commuter cars. Also, when you combine peoples’ unpredictable shopping habits with the expectation that their items arrive in 2 days or less, you have more trucks driving all over with less-than-fully-packed cargo holds—not a great combination for efficiency or emissions reduction.

So if e-commerce is on the rise for the foreseeable future, what do we do to avoid exacerbating climate change? Logistics companies have seen which way the wind is blowing and are slowly incorporating electric vehicles into their plans. UPS has already begun testing electric delivery vehicles in London and has also pre-ordered 125 Tesla electric semi-trucks for their nascent EV fleet.

Speaking of Tesla, the race against climate change has taken on a whole new meaning with Tesla’s line of sporty, all-electric cars. It’s safe to say that Tesla’s vehicles have been the biggest boon for the electric car movement since the Prius debuted, and have turned electric transportation on its head by demonstrating that eco-friendly can be fast, flashy and a fashion statement all at once. Beyond Tesla, the world’s largest e-commerce marketplace has also committed to greening up its ways, as Amazon recently committed to make half of all of its shipments carbon neutral by 2030. They’ve worked toward this with programs like Frustration-Free Packaging, Ship in Own Container, use of solar and wind farms, solar panels on fulfillment centers and more.

If Fortune 500 companies have made commitments to making a difference, what about the companies that create the packaging that Amazon, Tesla, and many others use? We’re real-life proof that packaging can be design engineered to provide better protection, reduce costs and be both sustainable and efficient.

At EPE, we engineer packaging solutions that provide for better product protection utilizing the least amount of packaging material possible with 100% recyclable material. We work with you to evaluate options for reusable packaging solutions instead of single-use to find ways to lower your overall carbon footprint. One of the best things we can do for our environment is to reduce damage during shipping.

Every product that is shipped back as a return because of damage is another vehicle trip that uses fuel and releases more carbon into the atmosphere. Not to mention the cost and environmental impact of refurbishing or disposing of that item and then sending out an identical replacement item surrounded by additional packaging material that now has to be disposed of by the consumer. Better product protection can avoid the impact of reverse logistics.

As e-commerce continues to grow around the world, we have lots of work ahead of us to reduce our overall impact on the planet, but with some ingenuity and outside-the-box thinking, we can continue to enjoy modern conveniences while not forgetting Mother Earth.

We have developed packaging solutions that have helped our customers continue shipping their products efficiently through e-commerce while lowering their impact on the environment. Talk to our packaging professionals today and see how we can help optimize your product packaging and lower your carbon footprint.