With e-commerce setting records during the 2020 holiday season and package deliveries forecast to grow by 80% over the next decade, a new study by the MIT Real Estate Innovation Lab reveals the tangible environmental benefits of online shopping versus bricks-and-mortar.
Using average emissions results from the MIT study, the share shift to e-commerce resulted in approximately 2,4% fewer emissions per package.
Consolidating deliveries on a circular route reduces transportation-related emissions by almost 90%. Transportation is the largest source of in-store shopping-related emissions and produces 2,5 times the carbon emissions of e-commerce packaging, its largest carbon footprint contributor. In the case of direct-to-home delivery, a full standard van can replace more than 100 individual car trips. In turn, order consolidation and network optimization reduce costs for e-commerce operators.
Carbon emissions from online shopping are on average 36% lower than those produced by in-store shopping. E-commerce was the more sustainable option in more than 75% of the base case trials by MIT.
Direct-to-home delivery from urban fulfillment centers can be a powerful lever to further decrease emissions. Built-out logistics networks which deliver goods from urban fulfillment centers close to consumers (rather than from facilities outside the urban core) can save some 50% of transport-related greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the overall footprint per package by an average of 10%. Placing goods as close as possible to the end consumer minimizes final delivery distances and congestion.
Innovation in smart buildings, electrification of vehicles, and artificial intelligence can foster even more sustainable operations. These emerging technologies have the potential to align the interests of consumers, retailers, and real estate investors in a mutual quest to lower carbon footprints.