Greener Shopping and Shipping: The Rise of Carbon Neutral e-Commerce Delivery

Greener Shopping and Shipping: The Rise of Carbon Neutral e-Commerce Delivery

Greener Shopping and Shipping: The Rise of Carbon Neutral e-Commerce Delivery

by Barbara Schielke, Chief HR & CSR Officer for Asendia

Worried consumers are considering the environmental impact of home delivery when they click to buy. Barbara Schielke Chief HR & CSR Officer for Asendia explains how carbon offsetting, emissions reporting per parcel, and supply chain efficiencies are helping retailers green their e-commerce fulfilment.

Retailers globally are seeking ways to protect the planet’s future, with many addressing carbon emissions in their upstream and downstream supply chains. This has sparked a trend for more transparency around the carbon impact of their e-commerce home delivery, and in Europe and the US specifically, ‘green’ delivery options are being made available. It’s widely expected that this trend will reverberate around the globe as consumers learn more about the threat of global warming. Ecommerce giants like Amazon are setting the bar high. Amazon famously ordered 100,000 electric delivery trucks in 2019, and continues to hit the headlines with further investments in EV start-ups around the world. Alibaba is using its communication channels to proactively support its retail partners as they strive to go greener.

Consumers want to see improvements. The International Post Corporation (IPC), found 44% of online shoppers have changed their purchasing behaviour to be more sustainable. Nearly half (49%) stated they would prefer their cross-border parcels to be carbon neutral.
There is a long way to go, particularly for brands whose products are shipped thousands of miles to reach overseas customers, requiring air freight transportation to keep within acceptable delivery times. While it’s encouraging that more than half (63%) of European retailers say it’s important for their business to be seen as eco-friendly, according to a report by Sendcloud , only a tiny minority of EU retailers currently offer green delivery options.

What progress can we expect to be made in carbon-neutral and reduced-carbon shipping, and how much greener can the industry hope to go, while still operating profitably?

LEGAL REQUIREMENTS FOR CARBON REPORTING ARE ON THE HORIZON

Carbon reporting is likely to become mandatory in the years ahead, so it’s not surprising responsible retailers, their couriers and shipping partners are currently innovating at pace. From Asendia’s conversations with e-commerce brands around the world, we know the pioneers see offering green delivery as essential for building trust and loyalty with their growing customer bases, while potentially leapfrogging the competition.

How can it be done? A good starting point is minimising packaging and choosing environmentally friendly materials for parcels, labels and void fill. Innovations are flooding the market, from cornstarch packaging, to biodegradable packaging peanuts, to air pillows made of recycled materials. As mentioned earlier, electric vans and e-bicycles are now widely used by last-mile couriers around the world, and reducing the volume of returns can help address carbon footprint. PUDO (PickUp & DropOff) services can greatly reduce the carbon impact of last-mile delivery, as more products can be dropped to one point, rather than many home addresses.

Sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is slowly coming to market which will make air freight less environmentally damaging. In September 2021 the World Economic Forum’s Clean Skies for Tomorrow Coalition saw 60 companies including airlines, and fuel suppliers commit to making SAFs 10% of the global jet fuel supply by 2030.

But perhaps the most talked-about eco-option in 2022 is carbon offsetting in the supply chain, otherwise known as ‘climate compensated shipping’, which means retailers can begin to offer carbon neutral delivery, even when sending orders to international customers. Retailers are seeking out ‘carbon conscious’ shipping companies and couriers who are pro-actively reducing and offsetting their emissions, and building a portfolio of greener services, helping retailers protect their reputation and drive brand loyalty.

Like many players in the e-commerce shipping industry, Asendia has set an ambitious target to neutralise our environmental impacts, and pass that benefit onto our retail clients and their customers around the world. We’ve just announced that, as of January 2022, Asendia offsets 100% of its international transport emissions, including those by our delivery partners, parcel returns, and building and machinery emissions.

In our case, this is achieved by supporting EcoAct verified wind farm projects in India and China. We also offer free advice and waste-saving services such as data cleaning and digitised returns to the retailers we work with, in the knowledge that the more collaborative support we give, the sooner benefits to the environment will filter through.

GREEN DELIVERY PRODUCTS ARE COMING TO THE FORE

Several of the big shipping suppliers are now offering carbon neutral delivery options in some form, and report regularly on their reduced carbon emissions. Retailers from A Good Company to Zalando are using their websites and social channels to promote their commitment to greener supply chains.

There’s growing understanding among consumers that express delivery is a high carbon option, while slower delivery is kinder to the environment, normally because higher volumes of parcels can be transported together. Asendia’s retail customers are increasingly requesting data on the carbon value of parcel journeys, and are eager for special green delivery options, in addition to the fact that all our shipping is offset.

CARBON CALCULATION TOOLS FOR E-COMMERCE PARCELS

Calculation of CO2 emissions is based on the shipment’s weight, distance travelled, and mode of transport used – in our case normally air and road freight. We are currently evaluating the option to develop a robust solution for shipment data to be extracted from our systems and processed with emission parameters. The methodology will take into account the Greenhouse Gas Protocol and World Economic Forum’s guidelines for consignment-level carbon reports.

It’s work in progress for all of us in the postage and e-commerce delivery industry, and there is a great deal of discussion about the best certification programmes to commit to, and which scientific calculation is the most reliable and accurate for reporting emissions per shipment.

Even when we are in a position to accurately calculate and report carbon emissions per parcel, challenges lie ahead for the industry. Cost is a big issue, with a question hanging over whether or not shoppers would be willing to pay a premium for carbon neutral delivery, or whether retailers and 3PLs are willing to take a hit to profits. Zalando has tested the water on charging shoppers a token amount (€0.25) to compensate for the emissions caused by their parcel delivery, and no doubt others will follow suit.

There is certainly a need for brands to educate consumers on the reality of international shipping, encouraging them to consider slower delivery for less urgently-needed items, and explaining that green delivery is unlikely to be free delivery. Creative ideas will be required from retailers’ marketing departments, weaving environmental values into the brand messaging. One option is for retailers to offer incentives like loyalty points for shoppers who choose the low-carbon shipping service. For example, fashion retailer H&M rewards its loyalty scheme members for eco-conscious shopping. Points can be collected for bringing old clothes into stores for H&M’s garment collecting, choosing ‘climate-smart’ delivery options , and using their own bag when visiting the retailer’s shops.

The shift to green commerce is an absolute must in 2022. No-one’s mastered the full delivery impact yet, but with innovation, smart thinking and clear communication, we can get ahead of the curve. I’m conscious that providing end-customers with total visibility is the real value of green innovations, and Asendia is considering this as we develop our carbon calculation solutions. By informing and educating the shopper at home, and providing a choice of express and standard (lower carbon) delivery options, we’ll empower them to take more climate-friendly decisions for the good of the planet.

 

About the Author

Barbara Schielke – Chief HR & CSR Officer for Asendia

Barbara Saskia Schielke is Chief HR & CSR Officer for Asendia, based in Switzerland. Her goal is to create an inspiring corporate culture, where individuals and teams will reveal their potential, thus supporting business success.

Passionate about sustainability and corporate citizenship, she is now leading Asendia’s efforts to
manage its carbon footprint and environmental impact.

Barbara has a Master of Laws and a Master of Science in Psychology.

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