Implementing polluting means of transport, non-optimized routes and a lot of packaging waste, logistics must be transformed to reduce its ecological footprint.
Since the first transaction in e-commerce history in 1994 – Sting’s purchase of a music CD, Ten Summoners Tale – digital technology has shifted brands and consumers to online stores. Each year, e-commerce volumes increase by more than 15%, reaching 129 billion euros in France in 2021 (Fevad report of 3 February 2022). It currently represents 22% of world trade, to which China and the United States are the main contributors.
The success of e-commerce runs up against a major hurdle when it comes to climate news: its environmental impact. Implementing polluting means of transport, non-optimized routes and a lot of packaging waste, logistics must transform to reduce its ecological footprint.
Greening a gigantic logistics system
It is the express companies, express transport companies, who hold the keys to e-commerce. Major players deliver around 5 billion packages a year (UPS or even Fedex) thanks to a fleet of several hundred planes and several hundred thousand vehicles. Global logistics is dominated by these big players who have responsibility for performance as well as the environment.
The ecological impact of logistical transport is considerable. In 2021, FedEx emitted 21.5 million m3 of CO2 and used 93,000 tons of packaging materials (cardboard and various cushioning materials). Aware of their environmental impacts, the major logistics players are creating specific organizations and projects to meet ambitious goals.
While consumers are increasingly sensitive (87% of French consumers want more virtuous delivery methods according to the 2019 Generix report), major logistics players must invest massively to achieve carbon neutrality and maintain their market share. : FedEx decided, for example, to invest up to two billion dollars.
Carbon neutral logistics require innovation
The current main transformation axis for express operators is the switch to electric delivery vehicles, which obviously must be recharged with the least polluting electricity possible.
In addition, despite their energy consumption, digital solutions make it possible to drastically optimize supply chains: connected warehouses, the Internet of Things, connected sensors, robotic arms, automated guided vehicles or autonomous transporters make the journeys carried out by each package more fluid.
By equipping logistics information systems with big data analysis capabilities and artificial intelligence modules, transport management systems (or TMS) are becoming true high-tech management platforms. They are already able to optimize the management of stocks, shipments, routes traveled or even prioritize means of transport that are more respectful of the environment.
If the supply chain can rely on digital technologies to reduce its environmental impact and greener modes of transport, it must also learn to change its habits in terms of material use. While the climate emergency has become more visible this summer, across the world (United States, Europe, India, Pakistan, etc.), can we really continue to massively transform trees into cardboard or use single-use wedge materials?
From bubble wrap to cardboard, through adhesive tape and labels, most of the packaging used by e-commerce is difficult to recycle. They remain single-use products. To this day, a box is recycled less than three times before it ends its useful life. The logistics industry can already use reusable products – infinitely, if possible. This transformation will have an even greater impact than that of digital technologies. It’s the next revolution!