Logistics Middle East
HOW TO MAKE YOUR ONLINE SHOPPING MORE SUSTAINABLE
By Stuart Milligan, course leader, MSc International Logistics and Supply Chain Management, University of South Wales Dubai
By Stuart Milligan. course leader, MSc International Logistics and Supply Chain Management, University of South Wales Dubai
E-commerce continues to grow at a phenomenal rate. In 2018, the market value of UAE e-commerce retail was $10 billion, an increase of 48% on the previous year, with estimates projecting that this market will be worth $48.8 billion by 2021.
As with almost any human activity, this behaviour has a significant impact on the environment. Online shopping uses tonnes of packaging (the UAE uses over 11 billion plastic shopping bags per year), and a vast number of airpolluting daily deliveries on the roads.
Yet there are ways in which retailers and consumers can use home delivery to reduce the environmental impact of our shopping hab- its. Take e-commerce shopping, currently dominated in the UAE by the big names of Noon.com and Amazon. ae, for example. These large organisations have sufficient resources to invest in the cleanest zero-emission (predominantly electric) vehicles for their home delivery service. Both Noon.com and Amazon.ae are also trialling alternative, eco-friendly solutions such as drones or autonomous vehicles.
The journeys these vehicles make to customers’ homes are very likely to present a much smaller carbon footprint than if those customers drove to the supermarket themselves.
Delivering to multiple customers over the course of a trip also significantly reduces the total number of journeys required. So too does the wide variety of delivery slots made available by retailers, along with an increasing number of customers as the popularity of home delivery grows.
These factors all allow retailers to optimise delivery routes and reduce their environmental impact.
For non-food home delivery though, the final stage of delivery to the customer is often not managed directly by the retailers but outsourced to independent couriers. This fragmented nature of “last-mile” service provision means there is less likely to be the same investment in low-emission vehicles. Indeed, many couriers are self-employed, using their personal vehicles to deliver parcels.
Non-food online deliveries also require each item to be not only individually packed, but also protected by additional packaging to prevent damage in transit.
Delivery without delay
Another trend having a major impact on the environment is the offer of next-day (and even same-day) deliveries. For non-food items, this means always having available stock – which requires more space to keep it, and more energy to store and move it. From a fresh food perspective, the offer of constant availability results in increased levels of food waste.
Also, in order to satisfy such swift delivery requirements, additional vehicles are required to ensure such speedy delivery – often in vehicles that are only partly loaded. Another point to
DELIVERING TO MULTIPLE CUSTOMERS OVER THE COURSE OF A TRIP ALSO SIGNIFICANTLY REDUCES THE TOTAL NUMBER OF JOURNEYS REQUIRED.”
STUART MILLIGAN. COURSE LEADER, MSC INTERNATIONAL LOGISTICS AND SUPPLY CHAIN MANAGEMENT, UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH WALES DUBAI
consider is that online deliveries do not necessarily substitute our own journeys to shops, resulting in an increased net carbon footprint. In addition, research indicates that returns from online purchases are significantly greater than store purchases, resulting in increased levels of waste and increased transportation.
Yet there are choices that all consumers can make to reduce the impact their shopping decisions have on the environment.
When short distances (less than 3km, say) exist between shopper and retailer, it is environmentally beneficial to shop in-store. It is only when longer deliveries are required that online delivery becomes a greener option.
Where possible, customers who want to benefit from an online shopping experience should opt for the click and collect option to pick up in store, reducing the logistical demands on the supplier.
Locker boxes, where you pick up your delivery from a secure locker, offer a good compromise between increasing convenience and reducing environmental impact.
From a packaging perspective, more and more retailers are now offering bag-free options or alternatives to plastic bags.
Environmentally conscious consumers should seek out retailers which offer these options.
Encouragingly, retailers are well aware of all of these online shopping that are challenges – and many are simply not sustainable. working hard to address These need to be urgently environmental issues. addressed to meet global There is an increased use challenges regarding air of biodegradable packaging quality and global warming. throughout the supply chain, Overall, the environmental and more focus on ‘closingthe-loop’ sustainability of the retail – where retailers market is a very complex are taking responsibility for conundrum. But, simple reusing and recycling products. consumer choices can go a But, there are elements long way to making the way of the current approach to we shop greener.
About the author:
Stuart Milligan joined the University of South Wales in 2016 and is the academic manager for procurement, logistics and supply chain management. He is also the course leader for the MSc International Logistics and Supply Chain Management in the UK, and for the course at the Dubai campus, which was introduced in September 2019. Alongside teaching, Milligan is studying for a PhD. His research is based on the impact of adopting an omnichannel strategy, and his research interests include supply chain strategy, sustainable operations and the impact technology has upon the supply chain.