E-commerce must adapt to the environmental awakening

Gabriele Di Marzio
5 December, 22

The boom of e-commerce in Italy and around the world has made consumers increasingly aware of, and sensitive to, the importance of the environmental sustainability of the logistics model. Consequently, merchants cannot ignore this ethical commitment when building e-commerce platforms and choosing suppliers. In other words, shipping and delivery methods play a key role in the shopping experience and satisfaction of consumers.

Sustainability is now a shared and ingrained concept among consumers. Studies carried out by Poste Italiane on consumer behaviour have shown that more than 40% of respondents say that they are very interested in ‘green’ issues and 30% would buy a shipment if delivered it was delivered via an electric vehicle, environmentally friendly fuels, or via an optimised delivery processes and in recyclable/recycled packaging.

Furthermore, Google’s latest trends and insights report also places sustainability at the centre of purchasing choices.  78% of respondents would give up a well-known brand in favour of a more sustainability-conscious one.

Investing in sustainability for e-commerce companies, both B2B and B2C, thus takes on a strategic business value: environmental policies make companies more competitive in terms of cost reduction, improved rating, and economic performance, with a positive effect on brand reputation as well.

The issue of environmental sustainability and carbon footprint becomes even more important for companies offering transport and express courier services that are, on the one hand, pushed to certify their products as a distinctive element of their offer, and on the other hand, they themselves need to reduce, compensate, and monitor the environmental impact of their business and implement ESG policies in their balance sheet.

Current trends to minimize the environmental impact of logistics

Logistics operators must provide the e-commerce market with a service that is ‘tailor-made’ for the recipient: greater flexibility and customisation of services, delivery times spread over longer periods of time to make it easier for those waiting for the courier to arrive, integration of their network with a vast and easily accessible network of physical points, as well as guaranteeing delivery times. At the same time, the challenge in recent decades is to reduce emissions. There are three global trends that express couriers are adopting to reduce their impact.

The first relates to assets: more effective fleet management, investments in the vehicle fleet to be adapted with more environmentally friendly vehicles and advanced algorithms for planning delivery activities, investment in green logistics real estate, from construction materials to the use of renewable energy sources, and greater fuel efficiency as well as the recycling of residues throughout the process.

The second relates to packaging, such as the increasing use of innovative materials (biodegradable, recyclable, compostable) and the use of reusable packaging for the return of items with a view of further circularity.

The third and final trend, relates to service models. For example, the introduction of tools for calculating and measuring CO2 emissions generated by shipments, the use of proximity networks to concentrate shipments and reduce the impacts of last-mile logistics, and the introduction of more sustainable reverse logistics solutions (such as the possibility for the e-shopper to send a return without having to print the label). Moreover, this also involves initiatives to offset CO2 emissions generated by logistics activities as well as, systems to monitor the level of environmental pollution through mobile detectors placed on vehicles.

Furthermore, according to the Contract Logistics 2021 Observatory of the Politecnico di Milano, some of the most frequently mentioned green logistics solutions include increasing saturation, reducing empty returns, and the so-called modal shift.

The green transition

In this context of increased widespread awareness of environmental sustainability, there are specific ESG objectives that have been identified for the logistics sector:

  • Reduce emissions from the postal delivery fleet
  • Increase the share of low-emission vehicles (electric, hybrid, low-emission) in the express delivery network
  • Increase the share of environmentally friendly vehicles (hybrids, low emission) of line haulage
  • Replace the company’s vehicle fleet with environmentally friendly vehicles
  • The introduction of Paperless solutions can make collection processes more efficient, reducing the environmental impact of returns logistics. In this way, the return label is printed when necessary, thus saving paper, time and resources.

Finally, in order to calculate, in financial terms, the value generated by the introduction of the new vehicles in the fleet, Poste Italiane has adopted an investment appraisal methodology that measures the economic, environmental and social impacts that a given project or activity generates for the company and the community. This is just one key example of how innovation can be combined with over-arching goals of sustainability and environmental awareness to create new business models or alter existing ones.

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