How last-mile delivery operators can support sustainability
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Last-mile delivery: Driving the agenda forward on sustainability

Last-mile delivery: Driving the agenda forward on sustainability

Enhancing underlying technology, the move towards local fulfillment, and the electrification of fleets are part of the solution

last mile delivery and sustainability by Bassel-El-Koussa-Co-founder-and-CEO-of-Quiqup

Innovation is rendered futile if all the progress we make is coming at the expense of destroying our planet and its natural wealth. Over the past few years, we have seen a seismic shift in our entire shopping experience and how we go about acquiring goods and services.

Five years ago, it was not imaginable that you could tap a couple of buttons on your phone and have toothpaste delivered to your door 10 minutes later. The amount of tech and process that needs to run in concert to create that experience is truly impressive. But this level of convenience brought into our lives needs to be met with serious action towards sustainability in order to balance the equation. Only then will we be able to truly celebrate such progress. It’s more than that. If companies don’t adapt they will eventually lose their license to operate in society.

There are three interesting areas where logistics companies are pushing the agenda forward on sustainability in the last mile: the underlying technology, the move towards local fulfillment, and the electrification of fleets. None of the developments we have been seeing in last-mile services could be conducted at scale without serious technology orchestrating deliveries through complex algorithms.

These algorithms are looking at granular past data of traffic, driver behaviour, and merchant behaviour to solve for the most optimal match between orders to be fulfilled and the routes/drivers they should be dispatched to. Naturally, one of the main parameters the algorithms solve for is cost optimisation. To be more cost-efficient, last-mile players are always trying to shorten routes and increase driver productivity per hour.

This strategy aligns well with becoming more carbon efficient because the less time it takes a driver to deliver, and the fewer drivers being required on the road, means fewer carbon emissions are produced. There has been an interesting convergence of trends over the past couple of years: consumer expectation for faster delivery and the disruption of global supply chains caused by the pandemic. Both of these trends have led to deliveries needing to be fulfilled as close to the customer as possible.

Leveraging store networks and local fulfillment centres means that we can reduce our reliance on heavy carbon emitting cross-border shipments (aircraft, freight trucks and ships). There is a lot more to be done in this area. By transforming current retail spaces into hybrid infrastructures that can host both an experiential showroom for customers wanting to have the tactile feeling of the brand as well as a micro fulfillment centre that can serve the local neighbourhood, or reimagining already existing under-utilised spaces (like dark kitchens) will simultaneously allow businesses to scale sustainably while creating jobs for local low skilled workers.

This simultaneously creates sustainable jobs for low-skilled workers locally. Having established local fulfilment networks will allow for the creation of closed-loop systems for return logistics to support fully circular economy developments. Finally, one of the most obvious ways of limiting emissions is cutting it straight at the source by using electric vehicles instead of ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles.

The main limitation in this area is vehicle cost and range. The most effective approach is to segment delivery zones and use low-range cheap options for high-density areas where the range is less important, while eventually introducing long-range vehicles once they become more accessible economically and operationally. The world has forever changed, the pandemic played a big role in shifting consumer behaviour and pushing efficiencies for last mile service providers. The opportunity for sustainable last mile delivery has never been greater and it has certainly never been more critical.

Decarbonisation is not a choice, it is imperative for the continuity of life on our planet. Everyone has a role to play. What can you do?

Bassel El Koussa is the CEO of Quiqup, an e-commerce last-mile delivery

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