Understanding last-mile delivery and the impact it has on our planet - Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

Understanding last-mile delivery and the impact it has on our planet

About the author:
George Mazzella

George Mazzella

Chief Operating Officer, Neutrl
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January 5, 2022

The Cost of Shopping is Paid by the Environment: Retail Impact on the Creation of Carbon Emissions

In the business world, philanthropic and sustainability efforts are often more marketing and PR than they are altruistic. Yes, buzzwords and trends are important to incorporate to draw attention to your brand, but the follow through is even more valuable to your customers' lives, and the health of our planet. 

Let’s talk about retail’s impact on the environment and what you can do to make an actual difference, and increase your brand's customer loyalty in the process.

Sustainable brands see increased customer loyalty
Brands can sustainable while also being profitable.

What are the biggest contributors to carbon dioxide emissions in business?

Believe it or not, retail is responsible for 50% of industrial carbon emissions, surpassing oil, gas and the automotive industries (Forbes). To make matters even worse, the current level of CO2 emissions generated by retail is expected to double by 2050

Those hoping to solve this problem sure have their work cut out for them and unfortunately there is no single solution that can solve the entire equation. In order to move the needle on this, brands need to look at things like manufacturing, inventory storage, brick and mortar locations, shipping packaging and logistics, and so on. 

Eco-friendly delivery options are crucial
Eco-Friendly Last-Mile Delivery

What is “last mile delivery”?

Last mile delivery is exactly what it sounds like: referring to the final leg of distance a package will travel between warehouse fulfillment and the buyer’s residence. Chances are you have seen Amazon vans in your neighborhood delivering packages before. Those vans, until every single one of them is an EV (electric vehicle), contribute a massive amount of CO2 emissions.

Which is better for the planet: Ecommerce or brick and mortar?

It all comes down to shopping behaviors.  People tend to shop online frequently, yet only buy a few items per order, versus the bulk buying we see in physical stores and on the other side of the retail counter; retailers tend to ship orders to stores in larger bulk shipments that require fewer deliveries (causing fewer emissions as a result).

However, here’s where it gets tricky. Greenhouse gas emissions were estimated to be higher from purchasing online and setting a physical store delivery than the purely online retailers channel on average.  

So if we were to rank shopping habits in order of best to worst for the environment, it would be as follows: 

  1. In-person Shopping
  2. Online Shopping
  3. In-store Pickup

This sounds like a lot of work. Are there any notable upsides to sales besides a clear conscience and a healthy planet? 

Consumers want to be more sustainable, period, and luckily for brands, answering this demand can actually have a positive impact on sales and brand awareness. The brands who have successfully integrated sustainability into their image see incredible customer loyalty (ever heard of Patagonia?). 

In addition, those retailers have shown that their customers not only prefer their brand for their efforts, but are also willing to pay more for their products. In fact, according to Forbes...

“Over 60% of consumers are willing to change their habits to reduce negative environmental impact, according to an IBM study, and nearly 40% are willing to pay a premium for a more sustainable product.”

Taking sustainability seriously yet? If not, you should. 

What can retailers do to reduce their carbon footprint?

Difficulty Category Solution
High Effort Shipping and Logistics Follow the lead of large conglomerates like Walmart and Amazon (Yep, even they are doing something good) and look at using electric vehicles, minimizing the number of shipments per order, etc.
Medium Effort Product Packaging Retailers can make a quick impact by using recycled packaging, or reevaluating existing methods to cut down on extra waste.
Low Effort Offsetting If you want an easy way to make an even bigger impact, Get Neutrl

In conclusion.

People are going to shop, period. In fact, people are continuing to shop more and more each year. So rather than trying to get people to shop less, retailers should take a look at other ways they can make a positive climate impact such as: sustainable packaging, eco-friendly shipping, and broader carbon offsetting (enter Neutrl)

Pushing for these climate positive behaviors will make sure you get to keep your next-day delivery, and future generations get to keep our earth.


Shady Ships

Forbes: Retailers Dirty Secrets

Multi Channel Merchant

Forbes: Retailers Reduce Carbon Footprint

Business Insider: Last Mile