E-commerce is changing approaches to sustainability in the United States—especially in the supply chain, where companies are investing in electrification, efficiency, and eco-friendly materials, according to research from express delivery and logistics firm DHL, released June 3.
Researchers say the rapid growth of e-commerce is yielding immediate opportunities to reduce emissions in the supply chain while also challenging retailers, logistics companies, and policy-makers to collaborate on ways to address environmental issues. The DHL/Morning Consult survey of U.S. consumers was conducted in May, and findings were released in a white paper titled “ECO-mmerce: How online retail can build the sustainable supply chain of tomorrow.”
More than half of respondents (54%) said their online shopping habits increased during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the majority (60%) said they are willing to pay more for environmentally friendly products and services. What’s more, 54% said they put more trust in a company based on its public commitments to environmental sustainability, listing carbon emissions, green energy, waste, alternative fuels, and sustainable packaging as the five most important factors in helping the environment.
Researchers said the survey results reflect the influential role supply chain sustainability will play in the competitiveness of e-commerce businesses in the future.
“E-commerce is fundamentally reshaping our customers’ supply chains, challenging them to redesign their transportation and warehousing networks in order to accommodate customer demand across multiple channels, address changes in trade and inventory flows, and be more responsive to the market,” Kraig Foreman, president of eCommerce, DHL Supply Chain North America, said in a statement announcing the release of the white paper. “At the same time, [we] see this as a historic opportunity to build more sustainable supply chains from the bottom up, by reengineering processes with efficiency and emissions reductions in mind, taking advantage of new, greener technologies at all stages of the order cycle, and exploring innovative ideas in areas such as packaging and the circular economy.”
The white paper examined five segments of the e-commerce supply chain researchers said are most exposed from a sustainability perspective: the last mile, the first and mid-mile, warehousing, packaging, and returns. Results revealed three areas that are likely to have the greatest potential impact on those segments: cleaner energy, via more electrification of transportation fleets and warehousing operations; increased efficiency, supported by data and technology; and eco-friendly materials, particularly in packaging.
“E-commerce is already having a net positive impact on the environment compared to traditional retail in a number of areas, such as replacing multiple passenger car trips with single round trips with delivery vans, and accelerating investments in greener transport and warehousing technologies,” according to the report. “In other areas, the potentially negative impact of some trends, such as a proliferation of smaller warehouses closer to customers, is being offset by other effects such as the optimization of retail networks and the introduction of greener energy supplies and automated equipment.”
The white paper follows DHL’s updated commitment to sustainability, announced in March. The company’s new “sustainability roadmap” reiterates its goal to achieve net zero transport-related emissions by 2050 and outlines goals in several areas, including: an approximately $8.5 billion investment in green solutions; expansion of its fleet of electric vehicles to 80,000 worldwide; and plans to increase the share of sustainable fuels used in its long-haul transportation by 2030.
The white paper was produced with the support of FINN Partners’ Global Supply Chain, Logistics & Transportation Practice, and incorporates insights from executives of DHL’s express, supply chain, and e-commerce business units in the United States.