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Make last-mile logistics more sustainable with 3 key initiatives

Retailers that ‘walk the walk’ can improve brand perception

There's more than a few ways operators can make last-mile delivery more sustainable. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of FreightWaves or its affiliates.

By Brian Kava

Every sector in the global economy plays an important part in reducing carbon footprints and curbing greenhouse gas emissions, including the supply chain. Last-mile delivery is a large contributor as consumer demands for fast, convenient delivery continue to grow.

The challenge for retailers is balancing these consumer expectations while also focusing on sustainability, as consumers increasingly prioritize engaging with environmentally responsible companies. Reducing carbon emissions — the burning of fossil fuels that power most last-mile deliveries today — isn’t easy as retailers work to meet these conflicting demands.

But there are three key initiatives that retailers can take to make the last mile more sustainable. Tracking sustainability metrics, acting on them, and actively implementing small and large-scale sustainable last-mile goals will make the difference. Let’s dive into each of these initiatives to learn more.

Measure metrics to increase transparency and improve efficiency

For retailers to fully understand the environmental impact of their last mile, they should identify appropriate metrics and then consistently track and measure them. For example, consider the delivery process of a furniture retailer. A majority of delivery trucks still run on gas, a fossil fuel that contributes to a carbon footprint. According to Commercial Fleet, an average truck’s carbon footprint is 223 tons of carbon dioxide per year. These trucks travel back and forth between the warehouse or retail locations before final delivery to customers. Imagine the number of fossil fuels burned daily just through this fraction of the overall supply chain process.

With industry standard methodologies such as carbon footprint calculations, retailers can measure and track their environmental impact, ultimately reducing their footprint. Additionally, retailers can share this information with eco-conscious customers so they know the carbon emissions used to deliver the products they purchase.

Identify how to reduce emissions

By having a quantitative awareness of fossil fuel and carbon usage, retailers can take stock of their current sustainability initiatives and further improve their last-mile delivery processes.

For example, let’s say the previously mentioned furniture retailer determines that single-product deliveries have the greatest negative impact on carbon emissions, which is a likely scenario. One way the business can address this is by consolidating nearby deliveries to reduce overall mileage. For instance, retailers can consolidate and send one delivery truck for multiple customers who live in a 5-mile radius. Or, if a customer purchases multiple items, the retailer can combine the customer’s products into one swift delivery. This process has become popular with large delivery providers in the past few years — as companies such as UPS and retailers like Amazon implement this solution.  

After implementing adjustments to the delivery process, retailers should continue to monitor their carbon footprint and create additional ways to reduce carbon emissions in the last mile.

Watch: Better ways to ship sustainably

Offset emissions through specific initiatives

Within the last mile and more broadly throughout the supply chain, retailers can offset carbon emissions by identifying and implementing small, or large, sustainability initiatives. Smaller-scale initiatives include office adjustments, such as using LED bulbs, implementing recycling or opting to use only paperless documents.

Eventually, committed retailers can work their way up to larger-scale initiatives, such as utilizing alternative energy sources for deliveries. There’s a growing and recognizable importance of switching to a fleet of electric or hybrid vehicles. A few of the notable benefits include lower operational costs, more ease in charging and managing the fleet, and creating a positive environmental impact.

Other larger projects, such as reforestation — the process of planting trees in affected forest areas — can also be implemented with the assistance of an experienced environmental organization. Partnering with a sustainable organization can provide retailers the structure necessary to make a successful environmental impact with larger-scale, longer-term initiatives.

Reduce carbon footprint through the last mile

No industry is exempt from the impacts of climate change. Retailers need to do their part and recognize what role they play in generating carbon emissions. As the last mile makes up a major portion of this, implementing these three key initiatives can help them streamline and approach sustainability in a tangible way.

Additionally, consumers want companies to “walk the walk” for environmental change and are learning to catch on quickly when it’s all talk. This can be a big part of improving a retailer’s brand perception. Providing transparency to consumers and taking actionable steps to create environmentally conscious delivery processes will not only encourage and retain customers but will give retailers the power to contribute to broader sustainability efforts.

About the author

Brian Kava, CEO of Pickup, is recognized as a savvy, innovative C-level executive with a proven record of achieving revenue, profit, and business growth objectives by providing expert business process, outsourcing, and cutting-edge technology solutions for blue chip clients. He has more than 20 years of experience in generating consumer and brand awareness, maximizing product visibility and developing sales and marketing strategies for some of the world’s most renowned brands including Walmart, Google, Amazon, Home Depot, Whirlpool, Nike and Microsoft. He is recognized in the marketing services industry as one of the leading experts in the strategic development and execution of retail and commercial execution solutions.  Brian maintains an uncompromising focus on high quality standards, employee centric culture and bottom-line profit improvements. Brian received his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Longwood University in Virginia. 

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Contributed Content

Note: FreightWaves occasionally publishes commentary from industry sources with expertise, information and opinion on current transportation topics. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author and not necessarily those of FreightWaves. Submissions to FreightWaves are subject to editing.