Going the last mile: How to overcome the sustainability challenge


Accompanying the meteoric rise of ecommerce over the last decade has been an equally substantial rise in the number of delivery vehicles on the roads. The increasing number of parcels being delivered to homes and workplaces has led to more congestion and transport-related carbon emissions. We know that emissions produced by idle vehicles in traffic is one of the greatest causes of pollution, and this has quickly become a difficult issue to address as the ecommerce industry has continued to grow. It’s even more of a challenge in cities with a high population, already troubled by busy transport systems and grid-locked roads.

This has led to calls for businesses to take more action when it comes to the environmental impact of online shopping and, with the introduction of the Ultra Low Emission Zone in London, many are looking for ways to adapt to a cleaner alternative and reduce the use of vans and lorries. However, when we combine this with the added pressure of meeting consumer expectations of same-day and next-day deliveries, there is now an overwhelming amount of pressure on retailers and couriers to ensure that they are not only remaining competitive but are also being sustainable. So, how can e-commerce businesses ensure they’re working towards a more sustainable supply chain?

Why less can be more

Electric vehicles have been touted as an alternative that could provide a more sustainable mobility solution. However, according to a recent report from McKinsey, while the adoption of electric vehicles will help reduce emissions produced by individual drivers, it will not solve the congestion issue. We also need to consider the frequency of failed deliveries, as a significant number of online orders are not delivered at the first attempt, making it costly and time-consuming for the retailer and courier – not to mention the detrimental effect it has on the environment. One viable solution is to minimise the number of miles travelled by each courier in a way that enables them to deliver the same number of packages, while reducing the time spent waiting in traffic or searching for parking. This is where the use of lockers comes into play, ensuring that parcels spend less time and fewer miles in last mile transit.

By streamlining the last mile, parcel lockers cut the emissions produced by vans driving between homes to deliver individual packages. Delivering to a handful to lockers instead of hundreds of destinations significantly minimises the number of parcel destinations and creates a direct and clear route between retailer and consumer.

Also, lockers ensure that deliveries are made at the first attempt, as it’s up to the customer to collect their parcel when they’re ready. This reduces the number of failed deliveries – which occur 5.6 per cent of the time according to research from PCA Predict – the significance of which is made clear in the context of the four billion UK packages predicted to be delivered in 2021.

Appealing to the environmentally conscious

With eight in 10 consumers trying to reduce their plastic waste and half willing to pay higher prices for eco-friendly packaging, highlights the growing number of consumers who are actively trying to make greener decisions. While a sustainable supply chain alone is perhaps not enough to motivate a consumer to make a purchase, it is likely to drive long-term brand loyalty among the growing number of eco-friendly consumers.

With retailers struggling to differentiate in a crowded market, many are looking for ways to attract, acquire and retain consumers – from free samples and programmatic advertising to live experiential events – offering greener delivery options such as parcel lockers at the checkout can be a great way for online retailers to stand out from the crowd.

Though there’s no single, cure-all solution to achieving sustainability in the ecommerce supply chain, the use of parcel lockers addresses some of the inefficiencies found in the last mile. By minimising parcel destinations, creating a direct and clear route between retailer and consumer and reducing congestion on the roads, parcel lockers can support retailers in their quest towards a more sustainable supply chain for the future.