Blog Post

Reducing the environmental impact of home delivery

Millie Mitchell explores the role that out-of-home deliveries could play in reducing the environmental impact of our online shopping habits.

Recycle your packaging. Re-use your carrier bags. Reduce your fast-fashion consumption.

We all know that as consumers these are things that we should be doing to reduce the environmental impact of our shopping habits.

But did you know that getting your parcels delivered to your front door might just be one of the biggest environmental sins we Londoners are committing?

Surged on by Covid-19 lockdowns, parcel volumes across the UK went up by almost 50% last year. But the environmental cost of this convenience is often overlooked.

The final stage of parcel delivery between the local depot and our homes, commonly called the ‘last mile’, represents one of the most polluting and carbon intensive components of the retail supply chain.

This is because parcels get split up into smaller vehicles before they reach our homes. As online shopping grows, so too will the footprint of our home deliveries. Last year, the World Economic Forum estimated that emissions from last mile deliveries will increase 32% by 2030 if nothing changes.

Electricfication and air pollution

And while delivery couriers are beginning to transition towards fleets of carbon-neutral electric vans, London’s delivery problems cannot be fixed by electrification alone.

Even though they have less impact than petrol and diesel vehicles, electric vehicles still create particulate matter that contributes to air pollution.

Across London, air pollution has been shown to have dramatic consequences on urban health. Data from 2019 has suggested that air pollution could be attributed to the equivalent of around 4,000 deaths among Londoners.

Air pollution is not the only concern, as vans in London are estimated to spend an average of 3.5-4.5 hours a day parked at the kerbside, creating congestion and reducing the accessibility of local pavement space.

The environmental opportunity of collection

However, home delivery is not the only option for Londoners to receive their deliveries quickly, cheaply and conveniently.

In our upcoming research project, we are exploring the case for getting more people to pick up and drop off their parcels from collection points nearby.

These out-of-home parcel collection and return locations take many forms including:

  • in-store Click & Collect
  • convenience shops
  • automated parcel lockers

By delivering more parcels to fewer locations, personal deliveries are made more sustainable.

Of course, it’s only more sustainable if we don’t drive to pick up our parcels.

Living in the UK’s densest city, Londoners are already more likely to have collection points within a few hundred meters of their homes and workplaces – allowing us to collect and drop off parcels on foot or by bike.

Not only is this good for the planet, but also good for local businesses who can benefit from increased footfall. Parcel collection can also be easily integrated into trips that Londoners are already making – to supermarkets, tube stations and high streets.

Changing consumer habits

Much of the infrastructure is already there, but take up among online shoppers is still relatively low. Why? Consumer habits can be difficult to change, and retailers are hesitant to pass on the full costs of home deliveries to their customers.

This reluctance is not surprising given that a 2016 study found that 60% of consumers who abandoned their baskets did so because of delivery costs.

Convenience factors also play a major role in how people choose to shop online and so too does the way in which customers are presented with information at the check-out.

  • Can we nudge consumers away from getting all our parcels delivered to our homes?
  • Do we know enough about the environmental impact of delivery choices?
  • What should parcel pick up and collection look like to change consumer behaviour?

Our upcoming report will be seeking to answer these questions.

Follow @centreforlondon on Twitter for more updates on this work.

Millie Mitchell is a researcher at Centre for London.