Reducing Emissions for Greener Transportation Through Technology and Service in Last Mile Delivery and Omnichannel Fulfillment

In today’s fast-paced and increasingly connected world, the demand for swift and efficient delivery services has never been higher. Last mile delivery and omnichannel fulfillment have emerged as essential components in meeting these demands, while simultaneously presenting unique challenges for businesses and stakeholders. This article delves into the critical role these entities play in promoting sustainable and eco-friendly practices in the realm of last mile delivery and omnichannel fulfillment. 

Let’s explore the obstacles faced in implementing sustainable strategies, along with best practices for establishing a greener and more efficient delivery process.

The Environmental Impact of Last Mile Delivery

The rapid expansion of e-commerce has undoubtedly enhanced the convenience and efficiency of online shopping, making our lives easier in many ways. However, this growth has also given rise to concerns about the environmental impact of last mile delivery — the final, crucial stage of the supply chain that delivers goods directly to consumers. The escalating demand for faster delivery options has intensified pressure from both consumers and legislators to address the last mile’s environmental footprint. 

Several key challenges contribute to sustainability issues surrounding last mile delivery. These challenges include:

  • Carbon Emissions: The supply chain’s greenhouse gas emissions account for approximately 80% of a retail company’s total emissions. As the demand for last mile delivery grows, so does the number of vehicles required to meet consumers’ expectations for speed and convenience. This leads to increased traffic congestion, resulting in even greater carbon emissions in last mile. 
  • Complex Route Planning: Efficient and eco-friendly route planning is critical for reducing the environmental impacts of last mile delivery. Traditional static route planning, however, struggles to accommodate changes, cancellations, added stops and detours, often leading to unnecessary miles driven, wasted space in vehicles, excessive carbon emissions and increased fuel costs. 
  • Packaging Waste: The rise of e-commerce and home delivery has led to a significant increase in packaging waste. In 2019, 2.1 billion pounds of plastic packaging waste were generated, and this figure is estimated to reach over 4.5 billion pounds by 2025. Non-biodegradable packaging materials like plastic and styrofoam, which take approximately 500 years to decompose, are facing mounting criticism from both policymakers and consumers. Transitioning to alternative packaging options and prioritizing the use of recyclable materials is essential for achieving sustainability in last mile delivery.

Utilizing Technology for Sustainable Last Mile Delivery

In the quest for sustainable last mile delivery, technology has emerged as a powerful ally, offering innovative solutions to drive eco-friendly practices. From automating delivery orders and optimizing routes to managing exceptions and harnessing the power of data analytics, technology has the potential to revolutionize the way businesses approach the final leg of the supply chain, paving the way for a greener future. 

Streamlined Processes and Enhanced Efficiency

Automating time-consuming manual tasks like delivery orders can have unexpected positive impacts on sustainability metrics. Technology solutions that eliminate manual processes (such as maintaining Excel spreadsheets and coordinating with multiple couriers) reduce the potential for errors and minimize the risk of increased emissions resulting from incorrect routing, missed deliveries and other operational inefficiencies. A streamlined approach to delivery order management leads to a more eco-friendly and sustainable delivery process.

Scalability and Capacity Management

As businesses grow and face increasing delivery demands, the ability to scale operations efficiently becomes vital. Automation plays a significant role in enabling businesses to meet these demands effectively. Technology platforms support scalability by automating the allocation of delivery orders to the most appropriate carriers, based on factors like location, availability and capacity. This ensures that the most efficient routes are chosen, reducing the overall carbon footprint associated with last mile delivery operations.

Multimodal Route Optimization

Multimodal route optimization is a key strategy for reducing emissions and improving efficiency. By leveraging various modes of transportation, like bicycles and electric vehicles, multimodal optimization can minimize the environmental footprint of last mile delivery while meeting consumer expectations.

The benefits of multimodal route optimization are multifaceted:

  • Reduced Emissions – Integrating eco-friendly modes of transportation can significantly lower carbon emissions associated with last mile delivery. Optimizing routes to utilize public transit systems, where available, can further contribute to reducing environmental impacts.
  • Improved Efficiency – Multimodal route optimization compares various delivery modes to determine the most efficient option for a given scenario. For example, a high-density urban area may be better served by cargo bikes, while electric vehicles may be more appropriate for longer distances. This allows companies to optimize their fleets, decrease fuel consumption and reduce costs, while maintaining efficient delivery times.
  • Enhanced Flexibility – By incorporating various modes of transportation, multimodal route optimization helps companies adapt to changing conditions, such as traffic congestion or road closures, with ease. This flexibility leads to faster delivery times and improved customer satisfaction.

Tracking and Exceptions Management

A critical aspect of sustainable last mile delivery is effective exceptions identification and management. Exceptions refer to unforeseen issues that disrupt the delivery process, such as missed deliveries, route deviations and rescheduled deliveries. These exceptions can have a considerable impact on the overall emissions generated during the last mile, as they often result in additional miles traveled, increased fuel consumption and higher carbon emissions. Proactively managing exceptions with advanced technology is essential for promoting greener transportation and reducing overall emissions.

Data and Analytics in Last Mile Delivery

Data and analytics are indispensable tools for driving continuous improvement, anticipating future problems and enabling proactive risk mitigation in last mile delivery. By analyzing historical and real-time data, companies can identify trends, patterns and areas for improvement in their delivery processes, which contribute to more eco-friendly practices. Actionable data also empowers businesses to make better decisions for greener transportation by optimizing delivery routes to minimize fuel consumption, selecting appropriate transportation modes based on environmental factors and monitoring fleet performance.

Best Practices for Sustainable Omnichannel Fulfillment 

Embracing sustainable practices in omnichannel fulfillment is essential for businesses looking to minimize their environmental footprint while meeting consumer demands. Following these best practices can help retailers meet their sustainability goals faster.

Local Fulfillment

During the pandemic, local fulfillment played an important role in creating a more sustainable last mile delivery system. By establishing local microfulfillment centers and leveraging regional supply chains, companies have been able to minimize distances traveled for deliveries, ultimately reducing carbon emissions and traffic congestion. Optimized delivery routes reduce the overall number of miles traveled by delivery vehicles, leading to reduced fuel consumption and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the use of electric vehicles (EVs) or other eco-friendly transportation modes in local delivery networks further decrease environmental impacts.

Incentivizing Greener Choices

By offering rewards or leveraging behavioral nudges, businesses can foster environmentally conscious decision-making among their customers. Some strategies for incentivizing greener choices in for last mile delivery may include:

  • Reward Programs: Offering discounts, points or other perks for choosing eco-friendly delivery options can motivate consumers to prioritize environmentally friendly alternatives and reduce the overall carbon footprint of last mile delivery.
  • Default Options: Setting sustainable delivery options as the default choice during the checkout process can encourage greener decisions. By presenting eco-friendly alternatives as the norm, customers are more likely to accept them without the need for additional persuasion.
  • Informative Messaging: Providing transparent information about the environmental impact of different delivery options can help customers make informed decisions. Consider displaying the estimated carbon footprint or other environmental metrics for each option to raise awareness and foster environmentally responsible behavior.
  • Gamification: Incorporating gamification elements, such as challenges, badges or competitions, can engage customers and encourage them to make greener choices. By turning sustainable decision-making into a fun and interactive experience, businesses can foster long-term engagement and commitment to eco-friendly practices.

Developing incentives and choice architectures that encourage consumers to choose sustainable delivery options contributes to a greener future for last mile.

Rethinking Asset Use

Repurposing, retrofitting and sharing of assets (like stores, infrastructure and fleets) plays a critical role in green transportation and sustainable last mile delivery. By rethinking the use of existing resources, businesses can maximize efficiency, reduce waste and minimize their environmental footprint. Let’s take a closer look at these strategies.

  1. Repurposing Assets: Repurposing existing assets, such as converting brick-and-mortar stores into microfulfillment centers, can significantly enhance the efficiency of last mile delivery. This allows businesses to capitalize on existing real estate investments while reducing transportation distances and lowering carbon emissions. By bringing products closer to customers, businesses also improve delivery times and decrease reliance on long delivery routes.
  2. Retrofitting Infrastructure: Retrofitting existing warehouses and transportation hubs with energy-efficient technologies and eco-friendly materials can substantially reduce the environmental impact of last mile delivery operations. Upgrading lighting systems, HVAC equipment and insulation materials or switching to renewable energy sources contribute to greener infrastructure. 
  3. Sharing Assets: Using shared fleets and collaborative logistics platforms optimizes resource utilization and minimizes waste. By pooling resources and collaborating with other businesses, companies reduce underutilized vehicles and overall carbon emissions. Shared fleets can also benefit from economies of scale, resulting in reduced costs and enhanced operational efficiency.
  4. Transitioning to Green Fleets: Adopting electric or alternative fuel vehicles for last mile delivery can significantly reduce carbon emissions and contribute to a more sustainable transportation system. Retrofitting existing vehicles with green technologies or gradually replacing them with eco-friendly alternatives helps businesses transition over time. 

Collaboration Across the Ecosystem

Achieving a sustainable last mile delivery and omnichannel fulfillment system requires the collective efforts of multiple stakeholders. Retailers are responsible for embracing eco-friendly packaging, utilizing local fulfillment centers and investing in green transportation solutions. Likewise, delivery partners should adopt innovative strategies to reduce carbon emissions through route optimization and alternative fuel vehicles. Consumers influence sustainability measures through their purchasing choices and behaviors, which work to incentivize businesses to invest in eco-friendly solutions. Finally, governments can provide regulations and guidelines to encourage further sustainable practices in omnichannel fulfillment and last mile delivery. By working together, these parties can drive meaningful change. 

Improve Eco-Friendly Last Mile Delivery & Omnichannel Fulfillment with OneRail

In today’s high-demand digital retail market, seamless and sustainable last mile delivery is essential to meeting consumer expectations and building brand loyalty. Technology solutions to orchestrate omnichannel fulfillment and centralize last mile operations deliver the real-time data companies need to meet sustainable delivery goals and drive efficiency. 

OneRail is a technology-driven solution that gives retailers the tools they need to optimize delivery and improve last mile sustainability metrics. With OneRail, shippers can count on:

Ready to learn more about OneRail’s omnichannel fulfillment solutions and improve your sustainability metrics? Schedule a demo today.

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