Shipping just keeps getting faster and faster. Used to be 5 days. Now it can be one day. Or even the same day.
But when it comes to super-fast shipping, here’s what I want to verify: Does it have an impact on the environment?
STUFF THE TRUCK
I'm starting my journey with Dr. David Nowicki at The University of North Texas and Center for Logistics and Supply Chain Management.
“If I look at the button, and it says I can get it in 3 days. Or 5 days. Or I can get it today and you're like, ‘Sweet I'll get it today.' Is there an environmental, hidden cost that you don't see in that button?” I ask Nowicki.
“No question an environmental hidden cost,” Nowicki says. “I would say, as you get faster and faster at shipping, it gets worse and worse for the environment,” he adds.
And no one does it faster than Amazon. They're so fast because they've built giant fulfillment and distribution centers, in large metro areas, 149 by the end of the year, according to the logistics consulting firm MWPVL. 11 in Texas.
Amazon declined to be in this story but did share links to its sustainability program.
“For them to offer that, they have to have the product almost co-located to where the customer is. So that's why you've seen an enormous amount of expansion on fulfillment centers with Amazon,” Nowicki says.
Nowicki is telling me, the most efficient way to ship is on a fully loaded truck. A big shipping company takes in products from all kinds of retailers. It consolidates them on trucks that are destined for a neighborhood. Those trucks then head out jammed with boxes.
That process saves a lot of fuel.
“So, when you have some time, standard delivery -- 3 days, 5 days and so forth -- it allows you time to do the consolidation,” he says.
“Are these trucks going out full?” I ask.
“The answer is no. For same day delivery they are not going out full,” Nowicki says.
WHAT CAN BROWN DO FOR EFFICIENCY?
I'm at a UPS distribution center in Fort Worth to learn how important efficiency is in the shipping business. My guide is Mark Modesti with UPS. He works with UPS clients to improve their supply-chain efficiency.
UPS is into things alternative fuels, hybrids & electric trucks. But what's just as important is loading a truck all the way to the top.
“How do you use tech to squeeze the inefficiency out of your driving systems?” I ask.
“It all comes down to optimization,” Modesti says.
In 2016, UPS launched a software system that analyzes all possible variables on a delivery route. A computer then maps out -- turn by turn-- the most efficient path for a driver.
UPS says this system, called Orion, saves 100-million road miles a year for drivers like Bruce Porter.
“You can look at your day all the way down to the route. There are 144 stops for the day,” Porter says, while looking at a computer terminal in the distribution center.
“This is the most efficient way to drive?” I ask.
“Yes, it is,” Porter says.
What I'm learning is big shippers, like UPS, try to use the least amount of fuel to move one box. But when you're shopping online and you say you want it now, it's harder to take advantage of these efficiencies.
“The better you are at moving a package from point A to point B with the least number of stops,” Modesti says, “The more environmentally friendly you are,” he adds.
THE GREEN BUTTON
Research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology compared traditional shopping to online shopping. It found online commerce has the smallest environmental footprint.
But, when online shoppers choose a faster shipping option they have the biggest footprint because it takes 3-times the energy to ship the package to their house.
Dr. Josue Velazquez is a researcher at MIT's Sustainable Logistics Initiative. He's testing an idea called the Green Button.
“What if, instead of trying to optimize the supply of logistics service, you work with the consumer? Try to convince the consumer that it is worth waiting one, two, three days more by touching on a sensitive topic, which is the environmental impact?” Velazquez asks.
The Green Button tells a customer that choosing a slower shipping option can save 100 trees. He's been testing it with Mexico's largest retailer.
“40% of them said they are willing to wait,” he says.
“Is it really possible, if I delay my one package by 2 or 3 days, you could really save 100 trees?” I ask.
“Absolutely. The energy will be equivalent to that. If you can wait and the other can wait and the other can wait you can always find a day in which you can put all of them together,” he finished.
What did verify? People don't really think about it but faster shipping does have an impact on the environment. So, you if don't need it right now. maybe you don't need it delivered right now.