With its acceleration of Prime shipping from two days to one, Amazon established a new normal. Soon after, Walmart and Target came out with their own super-speedy shipping options, Erica writes.
Why it matters: Flying, trucking and delivering millions of packages a day comes with a cost. As shoppers demand faster and faster speed, there has been a sharp environmental impact.
The big picture: Consumers have gotten hooked on speed, and the efficiencies that e-commerce injected into retail are getting erased because now there are more deliveries of smaller numbers of packages. With this trend, emissions have grown:
- The annual sustainability report from UPS, one of the biggest enablers of the e-commerce boom, says it emitted 13.8 million metric tonnes of CO2 while delivering 5.1 billion packages in 2017, by ground and air.
- Emissions from FedEx, the other major shipper, were 15.1 million metric tonnes in 2017. The U.S. Postal Service emitted about 4.3 million metric tonnes of CO2 in 2016. (Numbers from both include all mail, including e-commerce and personal packages and letters.)
Together, that's equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of just over 7 million cars, per an EPA calculator. It's almost the combined total number of cars in the states of Illinois and Tennessee. It's also about 0.5% of the total 6 billion metric tonnes of U.S. CO2 emissions per year. That's "not huge, but it's big. And it's growing," says Costa Samaras of Carnegie Mellon University.
On top of UPS, USPS and FedEx, many other players in parcel delivery — including Amazon itself — are adding to the total impact.
"Nobody is looking at the environmental footprint of being consumers with all of this convenience." — Beth Davis-Sramek, professor of logistics, Auburn University
Context: In theory, e-commerce is good for the environment, says Don Mackenzie, who leads the University of Washington's Sustainable Transportation Lab. Instead of people driving to stores in their personal cars to shop, one truck can deliver everything. But that calculus is changing.
- Now, flashy memberships that offer free, fast shipping regardless of the size of a cart have eliminated shoppers' incentive and the shippers' ability to bundle goods. They're instead ordering a steady stream of packages to their doorsteps, pushing e-commerce and logistics companies to keep up by adding trucks, jets and even air hubs.
Amazon started it with Prime, which offers free shipping on 100 million products, whether you order a cartful of things or just one box of tissues. Amazon's retail rivals, Target and Walmart, have done the same:
- Walmart has come out with free next-day delivery for orders of $35 or more.
- Target has long had a $99 membership program that offers free same-day delivery, and it has just announced same-day delivery for non-members who are willing to pay a flat fee of $9.99.
In a statement to Axios, Amazon said it is committed to bring down its contributions to climate change:
- "We’ve eliminated more than 244,000 tons of packaging materials and avoided 500 million shipping boxes, and with anticipated and continued progress in electric vehicles, aviation bio fuels, and renewable energy we have set an ambitious goal to reach 50% of all Amazon shipments with net zero carbon by 2030."
Target said it aims to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% by 2030. Walmart did not respond to an email. Its 2018 report on sustainability set a goal to reduce emissions 18% from 2015 to 2025.