Online groceries can cut carbon dioxide emissions, US study

  • July 8, 2013
  • Sophie Langley

Using an online grocery delivery service can cut carbon dioxide emissions by at least half when compared with individual household trips to the store, according to research from the University of Washington. The study found that trucks filled to capacity delivering to customers clustered in neighbourhoods produced the most savings in carbon dioxide emissions.

The research, which was funded by the Oregon Department of Transportation and published in the Journal of the Transportation Research Forum, found that delivery service trucks produced 20 to 75 per cent less carbon dioxide than the corresponding personal vehicles driven to and from a grocery store.

The researchers also discovered significant savings for companies – 80 to 90 per cent less carbon dioxide emitted – if they delivered based on routes that clustered customers together, instead of catering to individual household requests for specific delivery times.

“What’s good for the bottom line of the delivery service provider is generally going to be good for the environment, because fuel is such a big contributor to operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions,” said Erica Wygonik, Engineer and one of the study’s authors. “Saving fuel saves money, which also saves on emissions,” she said.

Study method

The researchers compiled Seattle and King County data, assuming that every household was a possible delivery-service customer. Then they drew a random portion of those households from the data as ‘customers’ and assigned them to the closest grocery store.

Using an Environmental Protection Agency modeling tool with factors such as vehicle type, roadway type and speed, the researchers were able to calculate the carbon dioxide produced for every mile for each vehicle.

Emissions reductions were seen across both the most population dense and the more suburban areas of Seattle, suggesting that grocery delivery in rural areas could also lower carbon dioxide levels.

“We tend to think of grocery delivery services as benefiting urban areas, but they have really significant potential to offset the environmental impacts of personal shopping in rural areas as well,” Ms Wygonik said.

Researchers suggested that government incentives could be given to consumers to shop for their groceries online, given the potential for emissions reductions.

“A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn’t the case here,” said Anne Goodchild, one of the study’s authors and Associate Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Washington. “From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions,” she said.


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