Love the convenience of shipping but hate the environmental impact? Don’t fret, eco-conscious consumer. Our experts are here to help. Earth911 sat down with Darby Hoover, senior resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council, to get the low-down on shipping the eco-friendly way.
1. Opt out of overnight
Ground or air? The age-old question has puzzled sustainable shippers for decades. And the decision to have an item shipped via ground or air mail is still the most important choice consumers make with regard to eco-friendly shipping, Hoover says.
“Ground shipping is going to use less fuel than air,” she says. “So, the more you can avoid having things shipped overnight mail (or whatever is going to require air), that’s probably a good way to think about it.”
While top-name shipping companies, such as UPS and FedEx, are taking steps to reduce the carbon footprint of air shipping, choosing a ground method is usually your best eco bet. Transporting one ton of parcels for one nautical mile produces about 1.39 pounds of CO2 emissions, according to 2010 UPS data. So, if you can wait a few extra days for your package, go for ground instead.
2. Choose the right provider
Carriers for the U.S. Postal Service walk and drive through every neighborhood six times a week, which left Earth911 wondering: Since delivery trucks will be on my street anyway, is USPS my greenest choice for shipping?
“That can be true, especially if everybody [on your block] is getting mail,” Hoover says. “But if the trucks are driving through and not everybody is getting mail, I’m not sure if that ends up being considerably more efficient.”
Green perks offered by the Postal Service that the other guys can’t match include a program that allows you to purchase stamps and other supplies online and have them delivered with your mail. USPS will also schedule a free pickup for outgoing packages, which carriers will pick up at your doorstep when dropping off your mail. But the Postal Service isn’t the only eco-friendly way to ship.
“There are so many different parameters that it’s hard to come down and say, ‘This is always better’ and ‘This is always not preferable,’” Hoover says. She suggests keeping an eye out for trucks you see in your neighborhood most frequently. If you often see drivers from a particular shipping company in your neighborhood, you may want to opt for that company for your shipping needs.
“[Private shipping companies] are motivated to reduce their drive-times and increase their fuel efficiency,” Hoover says. “So, they’re going to try to plan the best routes and figure out how to get packages to people the most efficiently in terms of time and money, which also turns out to be the most efficient in terms of environmental resources.”
To keep carbon footprints shrinking, USPS, UPS and FedEx have all begun utilizing alternative fuel fleets. A growing number of companies, including UPS and FedEx, also offer carbon offset programs to help minimize your shipping impact.