Powering a sustainable last-mile delivery industry

Richard Jordan
28 March, 22

You’ve probably been there. You’re in the middle of cooking a meal when you realise you’ve forgotten that key ingredient. What do you do? You jump into a car and ‘pop to the shops’ hoping the local Co-Op stocks that strange herb or spice you need to finish it off.

Much has been written about the need to cut down on ‘unnecessary’ shopping trips such as these, think smarter, shop in advance and in bulk, and be prepared to wait longer for deliveries to reduce the environmental impact of our shopping habits.

But in truth, we’re never going to eradicate the need to shop for items quickly and at the last minute – it’s just in our human nature. And why should we? Yet, the data doesn’t lie. 24% of car trips in the UK are less than two miles, rising to over 40% in an urban environment, and 58% are less than five miles. Something does need to be done to stop ‘replaceable’ journeys (where you aren’t actually needed in person), especially while just 0.6% of cars in the UK are currently zero emissions.

Throughout the pandemic, both rapid grocery and dark grocery services – centres exclusively for online shopping – have seen a dramatic rise in popularity. Shops such as Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, Waitrose, and Tesco have all begun offering rapid deliveries for customers’ ease and convenience. For instance, Tesco has been currently trialling a 1-hour delivery turnaround for small grocery orders. But it’s the innovative new dark grocery companies, such as Getir, that are dominating the rapid grocery delivery industry. These companies are now providing a service more in tune with our busy lives and the way we like to shop, bringing small shops to the customer and cutting out many short journeys.

By getting people out of their cars and bringing items to them as quickly (and even more conveniently) as it would be getting it themselves, we now have a golden opportunity to reduce car journeys in a way that complements our natural behaviours, while ultimately having a positive impact on the environment. To do this, we need to think carefully about how we power the last-mile delivery industry.

Starting off on the right foot

The popularity and convenience of dark grocery and rapid grocery delivery services show that they are here to stay. But there is a concern about the level of petrol and diesel vehicles being used within the delivery industry.

As society becomes more environmentally conscious, people are looking to companies to deliver on their promises of increased sustainability. This is leading larger delivery companies such as DPD and Royal Mail to begin trialling the use of electric vehicles in their fleets in a push for increased sustainability. But again, it is the dark grocery companies such as Getir who are leading the way, by starting off with an all-electric fleet of motorcycles, setting the example for other companies to follow. The environmental impact of this industry is substantial and it’s time for other last-mile delivery services to follow.

As cities move to tackle rising CO2 emissions and air pollution, delivery companies need to start implementing long-term solutions to make a greater impact. The introduction of ULEZ zones and congestion charges have resulted in many businesses turning to electric vehicles and many new fleet companies using EVs from the beginning, starting how they mean to go on.

Offering a more sustainable alternative has never been more attractive to consumers, particularly among the younger generation. In fact, 73% of Gen Z consumers have said that they are willing to spend more money on goods and services produced in a sustainable fashion. Many Gen Z customers further claimed they would be more likely to change their shopping habits for a more sustainable alternative. So, it is up to the fleet and delivery industry to begin to pave the way towards sustainable last-mile delivery.

Powering through!

Currently, the network and coverage of rapid grocery delivery have been mostly confined to large towns and cities. At the moment, Waitrose only offers Deliveroo grocery orders from 150 of its 338 supermarkets across the UK. So as this industry expands, many have questioned what will be the best form of sustainable transport.

While push bikes have shown to be effective in large cities, this is not feasible for everyone, physically and operationally. Whilst they are useful for short journeys and small orders, they are not practical for travelling long distances with large grocery orders.  But as the dark grocery and rapid delivery industries expand and begin to deliver to larger areas in cities and towns, electric motorbikes and mopeds are the obvious answer.

The ease and convenience of electric motorbikes make them the perfect option for quick and sustainable grocery delivery. When compared to a petrol-powered motorbike an electric bike proves the more sustainable option. For instance, if you compare a petrol-powered motorbike with an electric equivalent, to complete 10 million miles of delivery, the petrol-powered bike will emit 467 million litres of CO2. In comparison, the electric equivalent would produce zero CO2 emissions if charged by sustainable electricity, and only 66 million litres of CO2 if the bike was charged on a typical UK electric supply. *

So, to make the last leg of delivery more sustainable, it is now down to delivery business leaders to start as they mean to go on. Leaders must begin to implement long-term sustainable solutions in order to meet their sustainable promises to customers. As these promises are met, this will help company leaders to change the way society perceives rapid grocery delivery. Slowly as dark grocery becomes the shopping norm, this will impact the supermarket industry, as sustainable alternatives reduce the need for large, expensive supermarkets.

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