In a recent report, Accenture describes last mile deliveries as being at a crucial moment in terms of sustainability: “The last mile ecosystem is at a tipping point. Go one way, and it can extend these gains. Go the other way, and environmental impacts will worsen.” 

Simply put, the pandemic has encouraged retailers and other businesses to rethink their fulfilment models—implementing more micro-fulfilment tactics, increasing local delivery options, and more. These changes had the effect of actually increasing sustainability in the supply chain by rooting out inefficiencies. All with the goal to improve sustainability in business.  

Here in the UK, the government is doing its best to incentivise green initiatives, aiming to improving sustainability in business—not only in the form of mandates related to carbon emissions but also via incentives for electrifying fleets and other sustainable practices.

Retailers are taking notice: one report found that more than 20% of retailers have terminated a supplier contract over sustainability or ethical concerns in the past year—while nearly 80% said that long-term sustainability was more important than short term supply chain pain. The question now is how to  achieve greener last mile deliveries. Here are a few best practices that can help: 

1. Measuring your carbon footprint to improve sustainability in business

An image showing a person holding a carton on which is written Carbon footprint.

Before you can optimise something, you first need to know your baseline. When it comes to sustainability, that means taking an inventory of all the ways your current operations are contributing to carbon emissions. This is largely going to be a factor of fuel consumption—which you can measure directly by integrating telematics devices into your technology.  

But it’s also a matter of how efficiently you’re packaging orders are, how efficiently you’re loading your vans and lorries, how you handle returns, how you manage your warehouse and a host of other factors. 

This can be a lot to assess, but with the right technology, it’s certainly possible. Therefore, ask yourself: does your current technology give you the visibility you need to rapidly answer questions about things like miles driven, deliveries made, drop density and more? If not, this best practice may prove challenging. 

2. Making your journeys more efficient  

Once you’ve measured your carbon footprint, the next challenge is figuring out how to make your journeys more efficient by driving fewer miles. After all, one fewer mile driven is a mile’s worth of emissions saved. Therefore, the best practice for making this happen is to focus heavily on route optimisation.  

There can be a huge number of constraints in last mile deliveries, all of which have the effect of adding complexity to your delivery routes. Such as customer time-window requests, driver skill level, variable service times, traffic and road conditions, etc. Sometimes, finding the shortest route between stops within those parameters can seem impossible. 

Route optimisation software can effectively address real-world constraints that impact delivery routes and times in order to produce the shortest possible routes. The right software can provide efficient routes, even incorporating returns. All while using intelligent, AI-driven routing technology—resulting in the fewest possible number of miles driven.   

3. Transforming your transportation network 

One of the most powerful changes in pandemic-era fulfilment that Accenture saw in its study was the way transportation networks adapted to meet changing demands. This included turning stores into fulfilment centres, enabling kerbside pickup, and other strategies. As life returns to normal in many places, fulfilment networks are likely to keep evolving rapidly—but when you know how the structure of your transportation network impacts sustainability, you can be intentional about making adjustments in the right direction.  

One example of this approach can relate to the kind of route optimisation discussed above. On a micro level, AI-powered routing can help you decrease your miles driven by finding the right sequence of stops for each route. But on a macro level, these same techniques can be a part of finding the right organisation of warehouses, hubs, and other elements to decrease mileage for each delivery in a systematic way. Here, the ability to accurately model real-life delivery times is going to be key.  

4. Giving customers green delivery options 

An image showing the delivery.

Sustainability is an important goal in itself—but it’s also increasingly important to your customers. More and more consumers these days are making purchasing decisions that are informed by environmental considerations. When it comes to last-mile deliveries, that means that many customers will actively choose later delivery dates if they know that doing so will help decrease emissions. Since same-day delivery turnarounds are incredibly resource-intensive even compared to one to two days turnarounds, this can make a real difference.  

Here, it can help to include information about sustainability at checkout. If your customers know that a two to three days turnaround, or a particular time slot, is much more sustainable than requesting same-day delivery, many of them may choose the greener option—empowering you to carry out last mile deliveries in a way that optimises your green footprint.  

5. Leveraging last mile visibility 

Last mile visibility isn’t just about gathering as much information as possible—it’s about having access to the right data, in the right format, right when you need it. This helps with sustainability in a few ways: 

  • When you have real-time visibility into items that are returning to the warehouse at the end of the day, you can reduce wastage by more effectively triaging items, e.g., not throwing away a perfectly good bed frame just because it wasn’t the right colour.
  • Visibility on the day of delivery enables you to reach out to customers about potential late deliveries to make sure they’ll still be home or to reschedule. This means fewer failed deliveries, and thus fewer miles driven. 
  • Visibility also enables you to track driver route compliance to ensure that drivers aren’t deviating from routes and using extra fuel unnecessarily. The same applies to things like idling, which can waste fuel but are easy to prevent with a little proactive training. By leveraging visibility into efficiency gains, you can make your operations more and more sustainable.  

Ultimately, businesses and consumers alike are going to have to band together to address the challenges presented by climate change. While no single approach to sustainability is a panacea, following these best practices will be a key factor in building your brand, complying with government guidelines, and ultimately helping to save the planet. Therefore, we should improve sustainability in business to keep our planet running.

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