How Can Companies Prioritize Shipping Efficiency and Sustainability?

Steve Russell - April 30, 2024

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Since so many companies now serve customers outside the immediate vicinity, more representatives must explore feasible ways to achieve shipping efficiency while remaining sustainable. Fortunately, there are many practical options to consider. 

Set Customer Expectations Through Transparency

Many companies have experimented with offering no-rush shipping for customers. It typically occurs via ground transportation, so people won’t get their items as fast as if they opted for a method such as air-based shipments. 

The typical way to get customers interested in no-rush shipments is to provide discounted rates. Suppose someone doesn’t need what they ordered immediately anyway. Then, they’ll be more open to saving a few dollars and not receiving the item as soon. 

However, researchers also studied what would happen if people learned about the sustainability impacts of selecting a slower shipping speed. Their experiments centered on a simulated sweatshirt purchase. When study participants reached the checkout screen, some received eco-friendly prompts about reasons to choose ground shipping over expedited air options. Some were generalized, mentioning the higher emissions associated with shipments traveling by air. 

Others had a social nudging aspect, discussing how most others chose ground shipping. If someone sees fellow shoppers are okay with ground shipments because of the environmental benefits, they’re more likely to find them acceptable, too. 

The results showed social comparisons and general statements about emissions were the least effective in getting customers to choose slower, greener shipping methods. But even those caused a threefold increase in eco-friendly decisions compared to participants not receiving the informative content. Even more impressive was that the most effective nudge — which gave specific emissions-related content — made people 10 times more likely to go with the greener shipments.

Company representatives can consider working with these outcomes by highlighting the eco benefits of slower shipping. Additionally, they should call out how the greener possibilities aren’t as inefficient as people might initially believe. 

Bring the Goods Closer to the Buyers

Shipping efficiency becomes more manageable when parcels travel shorter distances to reach customers. Some companies have entered into short-term leases that allow them to operate microdistribution centers. Those typically open in areas with high numbers of current or prospective customers. Shorter travel distances can boost delivery efficiency while cutting emissions. 

However, not all companies have the resources to open microdistribution centers in the areas warranting them. Even in that case, similarly green services open more shipping efficiency opportunities. One possibility is to ship customers’ parcels to local lockers near their workplaces or schools. Then, the shipping is more efficient because delivery drivers potentially face less traffic. The shorter distances also translate to fewer emissions.

If many customers live close to the store or manufacturing plant, companies may offer in-person pickups, eliminating the need for shipping efficiency. That could add a few more logistical necessities, such as creating pickup points on the premises or reserving specific times for customers to retrieve their goods. 

Having buyers come to the source eliminates last-mile delivery challenges. It’s even better if the pickup points are along routes customers must travel anyway, such as on the way home from their workplaces. Then, the associated travel does not add to their daily emissions.

Purchase an Electric Fleet

Electric vehicles are increasingly available, making it easier for companies to invest in shipping efficiency by purchasing delivery trucks that run on electricity rather than gas. They have numerous advantages, including fewer emissions and more efficiency than their fuel-based counterparts. 

Purchasing a fleet of them to cover delivery-based needs will simultaneously target shipping efficiency and sustainability. Interested parties must research the options thoroughly to learn about necessary details, such as prices and ranges. They should also plan short-term, small trials that help them determine whether electric vehicles provide the expected payoffs. 

Research also suggests the time and location associated with charging can significantly impact sustainability. A team discovered 50 to 80% of the lifetime emissions associated with an electric delivery vehicle stem from charging. They also found optimized recharging strategies could reduce emissions by 37%. 

They developed a two-pronged approach to achieving that aim. First, people managing electric vehicle fleets must consider the effects of battery degradation on charging frequency. Opting for a charging schedule that increases the power source’s overall life would have a positive impact on the produced emissions, too. 

Next, company representatives should study the area’s grid electrification and charging point availability since these are still location-dependent variables. Broadly speaking, fleet electrification was most beneficial in places that provided the most carbon-reduction advantages. 

The researchers created models to look at four potential charging strategies based on their lifetime emissions impacts. They found fully charging an electric vehicle on its return to the delivery depot was an intensive activity that could shorten the battery life. In contrast, charging the battery only enough to cover the day’s delivery route and doing so close to the departure time could lengthen the life and sometimes even double it. Then, people strike a sustainability-efficiency balance. 

Work With Trusted, Eco-Friendly Partners to Enjoy Shipping Efficiency

Most company representatives involved in picking the best shipping options eventually find certain logistics organizations more dependable than others. They might reach that conclusion after seeing how drivers have high percentages of on-time deliveries with the goods arriving in excellent condition. 

It’s also common for people requiring shipping companies’ services to set minimum standards. If a business cannot consistently meet those metrics, the customer may end the contract and the relationship. 

However, once logistics brands prove they can meet shipping efficiency goals, that’s a great time to talk to them about sustainability priorities. What’s happening internally to make their operations greener now and for the future? 

The ideal situation occurs when someone needing shipping services can find reliable, sustainable companies. However, some brands are still less eco-friendly than their customers want. In those cases, some of the highest-volume-or-value clients might encourage sustainability shifts. For example, one of the most lucrative entities could promise to sign a five-year contract if the shipping provider meets and adheres to specific goals. 

See the Many Paths to Sustainable Shipping Efficiency

These examples show there are numerous ways to reach better shipping efficiency metrics while staying sustainable. People will get the best results by examining their companies’ operations and seeing which transit-related areas need the most attention versus what’s already occurring sustainably.

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About the author

Steve Russell

Steve is the Managing Editor of and regularly contributes articles related to wildlife, biodiversity, and recycling. His passions include wildlife photography and bird watching.