The Environmental Cost of Shipping: A Brief Explanation

America’s obsession with fast shipping is no secret, now more so than ever. You could purchase a whole wardrobe without having to step a foot out of your house- sometimes getting your delivery within the same day. The question is: Is the environmental impact that comes with shipping worth saving you one trip out the house? 

With Amazon’s announcement of same-day shipping for Prime members, other name-brands were forced to up their own delivery rates. As CNN wrote, “Fast lead times at no extra charge can make the difference between winning the sale or losing it.” Following Amazon, Walmart revealed their new free one-day shipping (no membership needed) and Target was holding steady with their own free one-day shipping for their cardholders. 

For the success of their products, brands are right to constantly improve their delivery rates. According to a recent UPS report, 43% of consumers consider delivery costs when researching products online. Amazon does not disappoint their members,  boasting it offers more than 100 million items for two-day delivery, more than 10 million for one day and more than three million for same day. According to the research firm Rakuten Intelligence, over the past two years the time from purchase to delivery has declined from 5.2 days to 4.3 days for other retailers, however Amazon is still faster- with an average of 3.2 days. 

UPS’ head of global sustainability, Patrick Browne explains “The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact,” says, director of global sustainability at UPS. “I don’t think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow vs. two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be.”

Miguel Jaller, the co-director of the Sustainable Freight Research Center at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Davis, found that if a delivery van makes less than about six stops on a trip, the emissions advantage disappears. With more stops per trip, there still may be more nitrogen oxide involved (CNN). The carbon emissions from shipping can be beneficial if done at the proper ratio. 

Overall statistics explain: 

Shipping is a growing source of transport greenhouse gas emissions and a major source of air pollution, causing health problems, acid rain and eutrophication. It’s estimated that between 2007 and 2012 the shipping sector emitted about 1,000 Mt CO2 per year, about 3.1% of annual global CO2 emissions (Transport Environment).

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