Fast Shipping Isn't Free - Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Ordering Online

Originally Published: July 15, 2019, Last Updated: July 24, 2019

Fast Shipping Isn't Free - Reduce Your Carbon Footprint When Ordering Online

I know...everybody loooooves free shipping when they order online. The option of choosing Free Shipping has become a basic expectation. More recently, Amazon and other large retailers have begun to convince consumers that not only should shipping be free, but it should also be super fast.

Sounds awesome, right? Maybe not. 

Shipping isn't free. And super fast shipping, in particular, is costly and harmful to the environment. Check out "America's addiction to absurdly fast shipping has a hidden cost".

How is Fast Shipping a bad thing??

With any online order you place, there are 4 parties involved:

  1. The customer
  2. The retailer
  3. The delivery company, and
  4. The environment

Who benefits from fast and free shipping? Two of the parties involved - the customer and the delivery company. You get your stuff super fast, even if you don't need it that fast. And delivery companies make big profits on expedited shipping methods.

Who loses from fast and free shipping? The other two parties - the retailers and the environment. Retailers have to eat the higher cost of expedited shipping. And the environment suffers from high fuel costs and carbon footprints from inefficient and costly delivery methods.

Smaller Retailers Lose

Fast and Free Shipping puts small retailers like Sicuro at a huge disadvantage. Having your order delivered to your door costs money. Delivering a pair of snowboard gloves costs us between $6 and $14, depending upon where you live and how quickly you want it.

This is a significant expense, representing the single largest expense we incur for an order. It is more than labor costs, marketing expenses, and rent and utilities.

Larger retailers - like Amazon, Wal-Mart, REi, and others - have the size and leverage to negotiate better shipping deals and subsidize their shipping losses through their high profits.

As a smaller retailer, we don't have the size to cut sweetheart deals with delivery companies. And we don't have the hundreds of millions - or billions - of dollars in profits to subsidize inefficient delivery expenses.

To survive, we use delivery methods that are efficient and low cost. Thankfully, this also means delivery methods that have lower carbon footprints. USPS, FEDEX, and UPS save time, labor costs, and fuel consumption by combining many orders on their delivery vehicles and performing many stops per mile driven.

The Hidden Environmental Costs

This is the part that should bother everyone. It's hidden but terrible.

"The time in transit has a direct relationship to the environmental impact," says Patrick Browne, director of global sustainability at UPS. "I don't think the average consumer understands the environmental impact of having something tomorrow vs. two days from now. The more time you give me, the more efficient I can be."

When customers chose a fast delivery option, the order is handled differently. No longer combined with other orders for labor and fuel efficiency, the order is expedited through fulfillment. More importantly, the final delivery - the most expensive and most environmentally unfriendly step - becomes much less efficient.

Have you seen a delivery van drive into your neighborhood, deliver a single package, and then drive away? That's a fast delivery in real life. Making that single delivery is a huge waste and it's bad for the environment. In contrast, your USPS delivery person delivers your order along with regular mail. And UPS typically makes many stops all around your neighborhood before moving to the next neighborhood. These consolidated delivery methods where many orders are delivered at the same time are very efficient, save money, and reduce fuel consumption. But they're just not as fast.

Delivery inefficiency and environmental impact is directly related to the speed of delivery. Faster speed means less efficient and less environmentally friendly delivery methods. Maybe in the future, when drones are delivering things, the math may be different. But today, that simply isn't the case.

What Can You do?

The most important thing is to recognize that fast shipping has a high hidden cost for the environment. Think about the hidden impacts of your choice before you place your order. Do you really need the gloves tomorrow, or is 2 or 3 days ok? Does your new iPhone case have to arrive on a Sunday, with a van making a separate trip just for you?

If you want to minimize your carbon footprint, choose a more efficient and more environmentally friendly option of a slower delivery speed. Smaller retailers (like us) and more importantly the environment will appreciate it.

Still not sure? Read this article "America's addiction to absurdly fast shipping has a hidden cost" on for some more background.


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