The climate stakes of speedy delivery

With its acceleration of Prime shipping from two days to one, Amazon established a new normal. Soon after, Walmart and Target came out with their own super-speedy shipping options.

Why it matters: Flying, trucking and delivering millions of packages a day comes with a cost — as shoppers demand faster and faster speed, there has been a sharp environmental impact.

The big picture: Consumers have gotten hooked on speed — and the efficiencies that e-commerce injected into retail are getting erased because now there are more deliveries of smaller numbers of packages.

With this trend, emissions have grown:

  • The annual sustainability report from UPS, one of the biggest enablers of the e-commerce boom, says it emitted 13.8 million metric tons of CO2 while delivering 5.1 billion packages in 2017, by ground and air.
  • Emissions from FedEx, the other major shipper, were 15.1 million metric tons in 2017. The U.S. Postal Service emitted about 4.3 million metric tons of CO2 in 2016. (Numbers from both include all mail, including e-commerce and personal packages and letters.)

Together, that’s equivalent to the annual greenhouse gas emissions of just over 7 million cars, per an EPA calculator. It’s almost the combined total number of cars in the states of Illinois and Tennessee. It’s also about 0.5% of the total 6 billion metric tons of U.S. CO2 emissions per year. That’s “not huge, but it’s big. And it’s growing,” says Costa Samaras of Carnegie Mellon University.

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