Welcome to our section of the site which focuses on the sustainable side of retail. It’s exciting times for anyone involved in this area as technology and retailers try to keep up with customers’ demand for all things ethical. From palm oil to fur farms, fast fashion to one-use plastic, excess packaging to food waste – this is where the real action is.

In a nutshell: Amazon alone delivers billions of packages globally every year while the Office for National Statistics calculates that internet sales in 2018 accounted for 20% of all retail sales and even though it seems that our taste for immediate online gratification with home delivery as standard is insatiable, there are a few signs that delivery companies of all kinds from milkmen and postmen to the global giants are beginning to see that green deliveries might also be a customer loyalty winner.

According to a recent survey done by click & collect business Doddle half of those questioned claimed that they wanted to support retailers with a wide variety of sustainable ways of getting their products and a quarter of the survey expressed surprise that home delivery was the only option offered by many of their favourite brands. This all sounds very positive until you realise that only a miniscule 6% of those same people are in the habit of collecting their own orders rather than expecting home delivery.

As usual, the consumer says one thing in theory but then does a completely different thing in practice. But faced with the dichotomy that the public is expecting green delivery options without wanting to leave the house the onus is pushed back onto retailers – and the good news is that they are responding.

Straight outta Germany: Milk & More’s new electric fleet

Milk & More makes 80 million deliveries of milk and other foodstuffs every year. It already had 200 electric milk floats but last summer became the first UK operator to use the StreetScooter EV van. It ordered 200 of the vehicles, which run on rechargeable batteries and can carry 860 pints of milk, from Deutsche Post to replace a third of its existing diesel fleet. Fuel costs at the company plummeted by 90% in the first months of use and customers are happy because the vehicles are much quieter.

The Co-op supermarket has been reluctant to enter the home delivery market at all but it is now testing out various methods of getting online orders to people and one of those involves an ongoing trial with electric bikes at a south London store which, if successful, will be rolled out initially to a further eight units. For residents within a four kilometre radius of the King’s Road a bike courier will arrive within a two-hour window for a flat charge of £5 on a minimum spend of £15.

Ready, steady, go: Co-Op is now trialling electric bikes on the Kings Road

Royal Mail owns nearly 50,000 vehicles and has a long-term aim of moving to a low-carbon fleet. It currently operates 100 electric vans, which work out of 18 delivery offices including London, Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh. Although Royal Mail is positive about increasing that number there are significant associated costs with installing comprehensive charging stations wherever they are used.

Potentially easier to introduce is another postal initiative – the e-trike, which was announced very recently. These are powered by a mix of solar panels on the bike, mains battery charge, petal and brake technology. Eight have started working out of offices in Stratford in London, Cambridge and Sutton Coldfield.

Postvan of the future: eight e-trikes now delivering post in several UK locations

 

But it’s not all about two wheels good, four wheels bad. The mighty Amazon, which delivered 5 billion packages last year to its Amazon Prime customers, has a ‘Shipment Zero’ policy that envisions full zero carbon emitting status at some point and 50% by 2030. It is also trialling Amazon Day, which aims to drastically reduce the number of deliveries that have to be made by bringing all of a customer’s packages on one specified day.

This is obviously aimed at the serious Amazon users with multiple purchases every week and it will be interesting to see if consumers are willing to wait a few more days for the convenience of knowing they will a) definitely be in and b) are taking excess delivery vehicles off the road.

The one positive that retailers can take from the Doddle survey is that people seem to be definitely willing to pay a bit more for a eco-alternative, which will be a relief to businesses forking out on a variety of carbon zero vehicles. This coupled with the 56% of customers who threatened to shop with a competitor if they felt it was more attuned to environmental concerns, should give companies everywhere the confidence to continue the drive on reducing the carbon footprint of delivery vehicles.