Effect of pick-up points and returns on CO2 emissions in parcel deliveries

The growing volume of e-commerce leads to an increase in traffic nuisance and CO2 emissions from the extra traffic in last-mile parcel delivery networks. One of the promising ideas to alleviate these negative effects of e-commerce is the use of pick-up points, which may be used as the delivery address of the goods instead of the consumers’ homes.

If a parcel is delivered to a pick-up point, there is no need for the delivery vehicle to drive to the consumer’s house. If many consumers opt for a delivery to the pick-up point, then with one stop at the pick-up point a larger number of stops in the district will be avoided. The use of pick-up points may increase traffic and emissions on the part of consumer mobility. However, how the consumers get to and from the pick-up points is not taken into account in a TNO-report. Also, the report does not answer the important question: what is the impact on the number of delivery vans in our streets?

Carbon footprinting methods

The TNO report provides first analytical considerations on how to assess the effect of pick-up points on CO2 emissions from the last-mile parcel delivery networks. TNO shows that current carbon footprinting methods, such as derivatives of the EN 16258 standard, can be successfully used for assessment of the last mile network emissions. We also provide an approach on how to analytically assess the impact of a larger share of deliveries via pick-up points on CO2 emissions in the last mile.

With each additional parcel delivered via pick-up points the number of consumer home locations to be visited goes down, and so does the number of kilometers driven. We point out that on average, the distance between home locations will increase as more parcels are delivered via pick-up points, thus the effect is more complex than a simple linear approach of location removal would suggest.

17% less COemissions

An estimation example is provided to illustrate the effect of pick-up points on parcel-level emissions, where under some realistic assumptions, a shift of some 50% from home deliveries to the pick-up points will result in 17% less COemissions in the last mile network and 33% less CO2 emissions in last-mile for the parcels delivered via the pick-up points, compared to the situation when all parcels are delivered to the home addresses.

The carbon footprinting methods are shown to be adequate for properly stimulating the last-mile networks with respect to CO2 reduction by pick-up points. The methods work very well for the goals of the transport service provider but are too aggregate to help the consumers make decisions in favor of the pick-up points. To help consumers make informed choices about a delivery, a modification of the method would be necessary; the marginal accountancy technique seems to be the most promising in this context.

Consumers can also be helped by a clear message on the effect of returns on emissions in last-mile networks. The considered methods show that returns increase the overall network emissions independent from the exact method chosen on how to account for them. Lastly, given the sheer volume of e-commerce and parcel networks, it is advisable to deepen the theoretical analysis with the construction of a simulation model that would better approximate the state of real-world last-mile networks.

Consumers behavior

The behavior of consumers to order many items, and then return some, causes some additional transport activity, and hence emissions. The returns often fit into the forward networks of the carriers, but in some cases require extra transport, and thus causing additional CO2 emissions. The effect of returns can be determined by the current carbon footprinting methods, either as “an overhead” that somewhat increases emissions of all forward parcels, or can be treated separately and assigned to the consumer that returns the product.

Both ways of emission computation will discourage returns, presenting consumers with two numbers of CO2 emissions related to a definite sale and a return will probably have a stronger impact on emission awareness. There are further ways for discouraging returns by the shops, for instance, by avoiding offering free returns when their competitive environment permits it.

Source: TNO

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