We All Love 2-Day Shipping, But Could It Be Harming Our Environment?

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Is there anything better than placing an online order and being able to receive it in two days’ time, thanks to services like Amazon Prime and other fast and free shipping methods? While it’s certainly convenient, you might want to consider a slower shipping option if you’re concerned about protecting the planet.

Enticing as it may be to pick the lightning-speed shipping option, research shows that there’s an environmental cost. Online shopping does have a smaller carbon footprint than traditional shopping methods, due to the fact that browsing on Amazon or another online retailer doesn’t require consumers to physically drive to a brick-and-mortar store. But choosing the express delivery option cancels out some of the ecological benefits of sitting at home to shop. Data from the University of California indicates that the faster a delivery method is, the more significant its carbon footprint might be.

Miguel Jaller from the University of California explained to Climate Action: “If you know you have a five-day delivery window, you can wait for all the products to come in from different sources, consolidate the shipment, and send it. You can also wait for more customer orders and consolidate that into a full truckload.”

With faster shipping, that isn’t the case. Companies aren’t able to use environmentally friendly shipping methods to deliver customer orders due to time constraints. When next-day delivery is chosen, the retailer has to send out trucks that aren’t filled to capacity. Plus, the global aviation industry transported an estimated $6.4 trillion worth of cargo in 2012, and e-commerce has only grown since then. According to TreeHugger, air freight’s carbon footprint is 10 times that of truck freight. Fast shipping rates could be causing a lot more air pollution than necessary, due to half-filled planes and trucks carrying orders all across the country and even the world.

It’s actually even worse if the company allows customers to return their orders for free. While that’s usually seen as a huge perk from a consumer standpoint, M. Sanjayan, Chief Executive Officer at Conservation International, notes that this can encourage customers to buy impulsively without considering the hidden consequences. In August 2017, women’s apparel became the number one seller on the internet — and, as anyone who frequently shops online knows, buying clothes can be a real gamble. The ease of online shopping and returns often prompts customers to click the “confirm purchase” button all too frequently without knowing whether the quality and fit of an item will be up to their standards. More returns mean more delivery trucks out on the roads, and that means more pollution.

Customer demand has prompted companies to turn to air transportation over the traditional trucks, trains, and ships for the simple fact that it’s faster. Air freight used to be reserved for big-ticket, lightweight items (think smartphones and other devices). But now, companies are choosing to transport perishables by plane. TreeHugger claims that a source familiar with Amazon operations says the company “has used its current fleet of about 30 jets primarily for its fastest Prime delivery service… The dedicated fleet has allowed it to extend the window for guaranteed two-day delivery from 6 PM on the East Coast to as late as 11 PM.”

The question is: do you really need that best-selling book, gift, or food item that quickly, especially when air shipping boasts 66 times the carbon footprint of delivery by cargo ship?

This isn’t to say air cargo is a complete no-no; in many cases, it’s necessary. But you may find that getting your item within 48 hours of placing your order isn’t really worth the negative environmental impact.

Although the cost to our environment may be the chief concern here, you’ll now have to pay more to receive your orders in that two-day window. Amazon recently increased its prime membership price by nearly 20%. These two points alone might be enough to make eco-conscious customers jump ship and look for more green online shopping options.

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