How Greener Shipping Can Make You More Green

by | Jun 2, 2010

Sustainable shipping practices are vital to securing procurement contracts at the world’s largest retailers, including Wal-Mart and Home Depot. They also appeal to a key group of consumers who demand green behavior from business. Green shipping doesn’t have to be hard. In fact, there are four simple things you can do to make your shipping operations truly green, earning more profit at the same time.

Pick packaging with care

Transportation-related packaging is emerging as an important customer issue, both in terms of compliance and brand experience. This is especially true for internet retailers because consumers’ first impression of their products is quite literally the box they arrive in.

Sustainable packaging is about much more than picking the right paper – although using post-consumer recycled materials and unbleached paper is critical. To be truly green, packaging must be durable. Damaged goods frustrate the recipient, put a dent in sales and force companies to reship a product, which can double the carbon footprint associated with an order.

Size also matters when it comes to packaging. Using a smaller box saves trees and helps reduce emissions because more shipments can fit on a single truck, helping to curb vehicle trips.

But perhaps most important to prospective customers is using packing and shipping materials that meet independent environmental standards.

From a financial standpoint, sustainable packaging makes sense. For example, when small Mississippi business Jubilations Cheesecakes opened its doors, it shipped all of its perishable cakes overnight. But when the company started using eco-friendly, refrigerated packaging, it was able to switch to ground delivery service for more than 75 percent of its U.S. orders instead of air, which has eight times the carbon output of ground. As a result, Jubilations decreased net shipping costs by 19 percent and expanded its customer base to a larger geographic region. And because the packaging uses fewer materials, employees can assemble the package quickly, so the company ships more cheesecakes per day.

Choose efficient shipping

Efficiency is the key to green shipping, so it’s essential to know what your shipper does to make every step in the transportation process as efficient as possible. To save time and fuel, carriers should have well-planned routes to avoid wasted trips, and minimize the time their vehicles spend idling to save fuel. They also should make all deliveries to a final destination at once, in one truck. While that sounds basic, it’s common practice with some carriers to send three trucks to the same destination in a single day.

It’s also important that shippers deploy green technologies, like hybrid vehicles, efficiently. For example, hybrid vehicles are best suited for urban areas where the brakes get a lot of use because that recharges batteries.

In addition, any automated processes the carrier can offer, like paperless customs and electronic billing, is good for the environment and your bottom line.

Knowing this sort of detail about your supply chain goes a long way when talking to prospective and existing green-minded customers. A good source for this information is on your shipper’s website.

Finally, it’s important to find a shipper that can transport your products by any mode. This gives you the ability save money and balance the need for speed (high-carbon-emitting air transport for urgent shipments only), with the need to be – and save – green (affordable, less carbon-intensive modes like rail and ground for less critical deliveries).

Mitigate shipping-related emissions

Even with the most efficient methods, there’s no getting around the fact that shipping creates emissions. The entire transportation industry, including passenger travel, emits almost a quarter of all greenhouse gases. To help reduce this impact, consider a shipper that can accurately calculate the carbon costs generated by your deliveries and offer recognized offsets to neutralize the carbon in your shipment. Your shipper should be offering carbon offsets that meet credible standards, such as the CDM Gold Standard and Voluntary Carbon Standard. By choosing carbon neutral shipping, you send your customers a strong signal about your company’s commitment to sustainability.

Read the report

It’s important to know that your transportation provider gives more than give green lip service. One way to find out their true colors is by looking at their sustainability report. The data should be clear and compliant with global reporting standards, for example GRI (Global Reporting Initiative). The report should be evaluated by a credible third party, and ideally a company should demonstrate partnerships with environmental NGOs. Finally, the company should honestly address its shortcomings and challenges and not report solely on the good. What is said in this report gives a good indication whether your company will be a credible business partner that helps green your supply chain and your reputation.

By getting to know your shipping partner and taking these four steps, you will be well on the road to a greener supply chain and reap new benefits for your business.

Scott Wicker serves as vice president of sustainability and vice president of corporate plant engineering for UPS, the world’s largest package delivery company and a global leader in supply chain services. For more information on sustainability at UPS, visit

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