Something unexpected happened to last-mile delivery during the pandemic—it got greener. When supply chains started moving again, the ecosystem adapted fast, as people purchased more and different products online. Stores became fulfillment centers. Ship from store and curbside pickup emerged. Parcel drop density rose.
The sustainability gains that came from the pandemic were unintentional. Now it’s time to get intentional and make the last mile more efficient, less expensive and more eco-friendly. The whole last-mile ecosystem—post and parcel organizations, retailers, delivery companies, governments and consumers—is at a tipping point. Go one way, and it can create a truly sustainable last mile—faster, cheaper and greener. Go the other way, and things worsen unchecked.
No single entity can create the sustainable last mile alone. It will take all ecosystem players working together in ways they never have before.
The pandemic radically accelerated local or market-based fulfillment, permanently altering supply chains where inventory is placed closer to customers than ever before. This opens up exciting possibilities for post and parcel and logistics organizations to create a more sustainable last mile.
To understand this potential, in 2020 Accenture developed a robust econometric model of the impact of local fulfillment centers for e-commerce using data from London, Chicago, and Sydney. The model estimates the impact on outputs such as emissions and traffic congestion, based on inputs including local fulfillment centers prevalence, population density, average distance travelled per parcel, delivery vehicle mix and consumer demand projections.
The analysis is revealing. The last-mile supply chain made possible by local fulfillment centers could lower last-mile emissions between 17 and 26% through 2025. This improvement is broadly consistent across all three cities. Using local fulfillment for even half of e-commerce orders between 2020 and 2025 could lead to significant impacts.
Delivery van emissions saved in Chicago.
Delivery van emissions saved in London.
Delivery van emissions saved in Sydney.
Think outside the box to deliver the box
It’s critical to work across the ecosystem to understand the unseen costs of last-mile delivery and pursue change. This means investing smartly in innovative technologies and balancing high- and low-impact opportunities.
Three fundamentals are key to any plan, and success involves coordinated investment and creative—even unconventional—ecosystem cooperation.
Incentivize greener choices
Develop incentives and “choice architectures” that encourage consumers to receive deliveries in more sustainable—yet convenient—ways.
Rethink asset use
Repurpose, retrofit and share assets like stores, infrastructure and fleets—while investing in green technology and evolving regulations to support these innovative approaches.
Harness data and analytics
Act on real-time insights into consumer preferences and purchasing patterns to innovate and optimize inventory and route management for a lower last-mile carbon footprint.
Top actions for today
Real change toward a more sustainable last mile takes coordination and collaboration across the ecosystem. Every player can start to make a difference with these priority actions.
Align last-mile strategy with economic stimulus and jobs.
Support green transport initiatives.
Repurpose urban spaces for local fulfillment.
Choose the greenest delivery option.
Consolidate trips to pick up parcels.
Drive the sustainable last mile
There’s no turning back from the changes that the pandemic made to the last mile. Consumers’ shopping habits are different. Supply chains are different. Retail footprints are different. The last mile can be different too—much, much greener—if the ecosystem comes together to act on sustainable last-mile practices. Everyone has a part to play. What will yours be?