Cautionary tale this holiday season: Fast shipping may contribute to climate change

Some food for thought this holiday season.

Amazon has streamlined online shopping so much that most of us think nothing of clicking “buy now” and finding a package on our doorstep before we’ve eaten the next day’s dinner.

The mega-retailer has roughly 100 million subscribers to its $119-a-year Prime program, all of whom can get free one-day shipping on 10 million products. It recently expanded same-day delivery for Prime members for the holiday shopping season, and just rolled out free grocery delivery with a one-hour delivery window in most cities.

That convenience packs an environmental punch. Packages usually arrive in fossil-fuel-burning trucks, after having traveled sometimes thousands of miles from wherever the products were made by cargo plane or other freight transport. Those deliveries — which studies have shown create a ripple effect of traffic congestion — produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, which 11,000 scientists recently described as an “emergency.”

E-commerce could be an ‘environmental asset’

It doesn’t have to be this way.

“There’s definitely the potential for delivery services to be an environmental asset,” said Anne Goodchild, director of the University of Washington’s Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center. Just as mass transit moves lots of people efficiently, there are better ways to move goods. The postal service accomplishes that fairly well, with a consolidated system where one postal worker comes to a neighborhood to deliver all the mail in one trip, she noted.

‘It actually turns out that as you increase the speed of delivery, you have less carbon. That is counter intuitive.’

— Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos

Online shopping can be less damaging to the environment than brick-and-mortar retail when, for example, it replaces instances where people drive 15 miles alone in their SUV to and from a store to

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