Decarbonizing Shipping Associated With Online Shopping

Jane Marsh - June 4, 2024

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The ease with which people can get items from all over the world delivered to their doorsteps relatively quickly is truly astonishing. However, it’s not ideal from a planet perspective. As items travel by boat, plane, and truck, these transportation methods increase emissions. As people look at decarbonizing shipping strategies for online stores, which things should they do first?

Combine Shipments 

One of the most accessible options is for e-commerce companies to send customers all their goods in single shipments — even if the products take longer to arrive. This strategy allows companies to progress with decarbonizing shipping because it reduces the overall emissions associated with customers’ orders. If a delivery truck only comes to someone’s home once rather than two or three times, that’s a better outcome for the planet. 

A 2024 survey showed many people are willing to make shipping-related sacrifices. For example, 83% said they would if given incentives for making that choice. That suggests a company could win consumers over by explaining the estimated emissions saved by choosing a greener shipping option. The research also revealed 47% of respondents would likely or very likely pay more for such alternatives. 

Combining shipments also allows companies to decarbonize shipping processes by using fewer boxes and other materials. That outcome can reduce the emissions stemming from the manufacture of those products. 

Companies should offer customers as much transparency as possible. If someone opts to have their items consolidated into one box, how many days could that add to the shipping time frame? Having such details — even as estimates — allows people to make smarter decisions based on what they’re buying. 

Someone might decide they don’t mind waiting on an outfit and pair of shoes they bought “just because.” However, if they need those things in a week or less to wear to an upcoming event, choosing a slower, more sustainable shipping method is not as practical. 

Let Consumers Choose Delivery Days and Times 

Although specifics vary depending on the courier and a parcel’s contents, some delivery drivers will not leave packages unless recipients can accept them. A study published in 2024 showed 54% of respondents treated missed delivery attempts as a key concern. Additionally, 64% felt it was very important to be able to choose their preferred delivery days. 

Not all couriers offer such services, but people who regularly ship products to customers should investigate whether missed delivery attempts are problematic. When they are, it could be worthwhile to switch to companies that allow purchasers to specify when they want their delivered products to arrive. 

It’s even better if people can select the desired time of day, too. That way, even if a delivery will arrive on a day they typically work or are otherwise not home, they can rearrange their schedules to be there when it comes. 

This strategy represents a good step towards decarbonizing shipping because it prevents delivery drivers from bringing parcels to places where people cannot receive them. Such outcomes waste time and fuel. 

An alternative is sending customers’ packages to conveniently located parcel lockers. Then, those delivered items stay in secure locations until the recipients have time to retrieve them. 

Help Consumers Make Better Purchasing Decisions

Returned products represent a costly problem that contributes to landfill waste and harms a company’s bottom line. Some business leaders have responded by making it less attractive to return items. One increasingly popular strategy is to require people to pay fees to return items. 

A 2023 study showed 53% of retailers had lower return rates once they raised the associated fees. However, all but 5% of those entities also reported lower average order values and upticks in customer complaints. How could companies keep customers happy while simultaneously reducing the likelihood of them returning things? Providing them with more product information could be the key.

When a person shops for a shirt online, they appreciate being able to see the item from multiple angles or zoom in to check out the finer details. Merchants should strongly consider adding such functionality to their websites. 

Another possibility is to show an image of a model wearing the item and then provide that person’s measurements. Potential purchasers can then compare their measurements to the provided information. That method isn’t perfect, but it’s better than forcing people to guess how something will fit and hope for the best. 

Merchants can also allow verified purchasers to write reviews indicating whether their purchases were true to size or otherwise as described. If a website breaks down those responses into percentages, people can quickly spot trends within shoppers’ reviews. 

Moving forward with various ways to educate consumers can result in retailers having lower return rates. It’s also important to get ongoing feedback to learn what’s working well and which changes need further improvements. 

View Decarbonizing Shipping as a Continual Process

Shopping online is convenient because it allows individuals to look for items at any time of the day and take as long as necessary to select which products to buy. In that way, online shopping has some often overlooked sustainability aspects. For example, people won’t waste gas driving to stores that close before they reach them. Plus, when shoppers can take their time to browse without pressure from salespeople, they may be less likely to make impulsive purchases. 

Although there’s a lot of work to do as people explore viable ways to decarbonize shipping, they must not lose sight of the progress made so far. It’s unrealistic for e-commerce companies to drastically reduce shipping-related emissions in a few weeks or months. However, leaders should choose and track metrics to ensure things are moving in the right direction. 

People might choose relatively small actions first, such as switching to recycled packaging. However, they could capitalize on the early momentum to eventually incentivize suppliers to make more sustainable decisions. Identifying emissions within the supply chain takes time, and no one should expect overnight progress. 

Motivating everyone is much easier when company leaders create clear, challenging, and achievable goals. Then, people can see which actions they can or should take to keep the desired results within reach. 

Decarbonizing Shipping Is an Achievable Prospect 

Online shopping has developed somewhat of a bad reputation due to its unsustainable aspects. However, these tips show it’s possible to make the shipping of internet-purchased items better for the Earth. Deploying several — or even one — of these strategies can result in meaningful, positive changes. 

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.