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

The growing volume of e-commerce leads to increased 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, a larger number of stops in the district will be avoided with one stop at the pick-up point. The use of pick-up points may increase traffic and emissions on the part of consumer mobility. However, a TNO report does not consider how the consumers get to and from the pick-up points. Also, the report does not answer the critical question: what impacts the number of delivery vans on our streets?

Carbon footprinting methods

The TNO report provides the first analytical considerations for assessing 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 to assess the last-mile network emissions. We also provide an approach to analytically evaluate 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. However, 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 to location removal would suggest.

17% fewer 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% fewer COemissions in the last mile network and 33% fewer 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 adequate for properly stimulating the last-mile networks concerning 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 by constructing a simulation model to better approximate real-world last-mile networks’ state.

Consumers behavior

The behavior of consumers to order many items and then return some causes some additional transport activity, and hence emissions. In addition, the returns often fit into the forward networks of the carriers but, in some cases, require extra transport, 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 more substantial impact on emission awareness. There are other ways to discourage returns by the shops, for instance, by avoiding offering free returns when their competitive environment permits it.

Source: TNO

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