Sustainability has long been a focus of the logistics real estate industry, primarily expressed through building design and energy efficiency. With the significant growth of e-commerce and its outsized contribution to logistics demand, it is prudent to evaluate sustainability with this new and growing use in mind.
E-commerce is improving the sustainability of retail, according to careful academic studies that measure end-to-end environmental impacts. The key to greater sustainability in retail is reducing the transportation impact—the largest source of emissions for the U.S. as a whole. Here, e-commerce is substantially more efficient. By consolidating goods transportation into trucks and vans making several deliveries on a circular route, rather than individual point-to-point trips by consumer vehicles, the carbon footprint of transportation falls by more than 50% as measured by kg CO2e. In addition, the faster pace of adoption of EVs by delivery companies (compared to the larger consumer vehicle fleet) is widening the CO2 savings of online versus in-store shopping. While packaging for e-commerce is greater, it does not outweigh the transportation savings created by online shopping. In total, the end-to-end environmental impact is estimated to be roughly 15% lower for online versus in-store shopping.