In a recent survey commissioned by 7bridges, we sought an answer to the question: how much do consumers care about the environmental impact of their online shopping, and how much does that influence their purchase decisions?
As part of the research conducted in August 2020 by YouGov, consumers were asked – among many other things – what value they placed on environmentally-responsible delivery options and packaging.
In the 25-34 age group, 62% said minimal, eco-friendly
packaging made a difference to their choice of retailer
58% looked for green and/or carbon-neutral delivery
options as a purchase differentiator.
This age group spends 22% more online than the average consumer every month: so it certainly pays to emphasise green delivery and returns offerings in order to build brand loyalty with this demographic. And because awareness of environmental pressures is growing daily, especially amongst younger generations, a greener supply chain is an urgent consideration both now and for the future.
Often when environmental initiatives are discussed, the headlines are dominated by the prospect of new technologies as part of a long-term “future solution”.
But we should all be wary of the idea that new investment and a long technical gestation is required before the situation can be improved. As the data from our survey shows, consumers are making choices NOW based on their green preferences. It’s important to do what we can with the tools that are available to us now.
And, far from requiring a lot of investment, the greener option can actually be the cheaper option too. It turns out that many of the improvements mentioned here will achieve a more eco-friendly delivery, but they’ll also save money. To put that another way: inefficient, wasteful logistics are environmentally-damaging, and by improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness you also reduce the carbon footprint, amount of waste generated, and so on.
With a little thought and planning, your supply chain can be greener and leaner.
We’ve all received items ordered online and by the time we’ve finished unpacking, we’re left with a pile of unwanted material many times the size of the object we ordered.
Bubblewrap, styrofoam beads, blocks of expanded polystyrene, plastic enclosures and wraps. Of this heap of material, only the cardboard carton is really recyclable, and even that may be compromised by the plastic tape used to close and seal it.
Some consumers will just regard disposing of all this as a nuisance and forget about it once it’s out of the back door. Others – in particular, the younger demographic – are acutely aware of the implications.
Improve your packaging materials
The range of green packaging materials now available makes it easy to move to non-toxic, non-hazardous materials, to switch from plastics to paper, to use sustainably-sourced, biodegradable, options like paper void filler, earth-friendly tape, and recycled cartons.
In doing so, businesses will be able to avoid creating the very negative impression left by a heap of waste on the consumer’s carpet.
Optimise your order packing process
But having green packaging materials is only a part of the picture. To really make your packaging impact minimal, good process control in your shipping process is essential.
In the real world, if a package of the correct size isn’t to hand in your dispatch bay when your team is packing an order, the item gets packed in a larger carton. Of course this carton is more expensive, and breaks the ‘minimal packaging’ standard in a way that’s very obvious to the consumer at unwrapping time, but it also often increases cost of delivery.
Appropriate (and preferably automated) packaging selection integrated into your dispatch workflow should ensure that the container always fits the item. And, to make certain that the right container is always available, accurate predictive stock control and automated ordering of packaging materials becomes an important aspect of lean-green logistics.
Intelligent, consistent process control is also vital for increasing the efficiency of dispatch operations.
Smart consolidation of shipments - using AI technology - makes it possible to significantly reduce the total mileage of transport vehicles - both in deliveries to the end-user and in stock supply, distribution and returns. The cost implications of this are clear, as are the implications for the overall impact of logistics on the environment.
AI can reduce your logistics carbon footprint and your costs
There’s a further major contribution that intelligent AI-powered logistics can make towards leaner-greener logistics. It’s one that improves the performance and green credentials across the supply chain, in stock distribution, delivery to the customer, and returns.
All too often we see items being dispatched from a central warehouse on a journey to a customer a very long distance away, when the same item is available in a local hub or even a store much closer to the destination. What should be the ‘last mile’ is really the last thousand. With the right logistics technology and processes, it’s simple to seize the opportunity here.
Smart, decentralised stock distribution and automated intelligent fulfilment processes bring big benefits by minimising the ‘last-mile’ impact: less carbon, less cost.
And what goes for delivery also applies to returns, so that instead of requiring the customer to send an item to a centralised warehouse, an intelligent process can direct it to the nearest hub or store, where it can either be prepared for resale or sent on in a consolidated load later.
Holding stock closer to the customer ticks the green box, but it’s also a key factor in implementing short-time deliveries – and this demonstrates once more that what’s greener is usually also better in other ways too.
An intelligent distributed stock model does require serious computing power: but that’s why we’ve built it into our end-to-end smart logistics platform. At 7bridges, many of our customers are well along the road to optimising their green performance through strategies like these.
Reconsider your carriers
When it comes to choosing and using delivery partners, businesses need to pay attention to the green credentials of the carriers. Some of course do better than others, and by adopting a multi-carrier mode of operation, a business can increase its ability to provide the eco-responsible delivery option to the customer.
As delivery technologies develop, some carriers will give electric vans and robotic vehicles a higher profile, and if you have access to an intelligent fulfilment process it can be tuned to seek and prefer these options when available. (And, of course, with its core AI capability, the 7bridges platform can continually optimise the ecological impact of your entire supply chain.)
Sustainability is an urgent issue, and rather than waiting for futuristic developments that are still at a visionary or prototype stage, businesses can do much to address it with the technology and tools that are available now.
This approach has the benefit of requiring little if any investment. It’s just a matter of thought, planning, better processes…and access to some powerful computing resources.
For businesses that have yet to find a way to tackle these issues, one thing is worth noting. You do not have to reinvent the wheel. While a few larger retailers have chosen to enhance their IT departments with an in-house AI capability, most organisations can opt for a far quicker, low-cost answer by adopting a purpose-built state-of-the-art, AI-powered logistics platform that’s already solving the problem for businesses around the world.
For more statistics and insight into changing consumer preferences during 2020, download Holiday Horror: How to Avoid the Trading Pitfalls of a COVID Christmas.