From climate change to parcel peak – we need more zen in our lives
Natural disasters triggered by climate change. We hear about them on the news, but sitting here in the UK, or elsewhere in Western Europe, it can sometimes feel like these are things that don’t really happen here. Certainly not to the extent one hears about in
But as some of this year’s extreme weather events have shown us, the world is smaller than we often think – what affects our distant neighbours can affect us too. Fires in Greece claimed almost 100 lives in late July. At the same time, forest fires raged inside the Arctic Circle – could there be a more profound metaphor for climate change than that? Extreme weather is likely to become a regular feature of 21st century life, and while people on the margins and in more fragile environments are always going to be more vulnerable, nowhere is completely safe.
The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence tells us the human race is responsible for the rate at which the climate is changing. The Paris Climate accordsought to establish international commitments to preventing an average temperature rise of more than 1.5-2C. But no one knows for certain if that’s possible, or even if it will be enough. And with the current US administration turning its back on the Paris agreement, not to mention encouraging greater use of coal, that target may be even harder to hit than at first thought.
Such problems can feel overwhelming. After all, if the USA is shirking its emissions responsibilities, you may be thinking, what can I possibly do to help?
We’re all used to hearing about our carbon footprint. You may already reuse and recycle as much as possible in your day-to-day life as part of your commitment to reducing the size of your own carbon footprint. And while it’s important that we all do what we can as individuals, there is a substantial multiplier effect from joining forces with one another.
We’re approaching one of the busiest times for retail and logistics – the peak parcel period. Things will start to go crazy shortly before Black Friday (23 November this year) and stay that way well into January and beyond. But how long before something starts to break? A few years ago, when ecommerce really hit the UK mainstream, several retailers and couriers couldn’t keep up with demand. Better planning, more resources, and more people have helped over the last couple of years. But that’s really done little more than push the bottlenecks further down the line. There are only so many roads, vehicles, and drivers. Eventually it won’t be possible to get all the deliveries out to people’s homes and businesses on time, simply because of the physical impossibility of getting yet more from a very finite network.
According to research carried out by PwC for Royal Mail, 1.7 billion items were shipped through the parcel post in the UK in 2012. By 2023 that number is likely to hit 2.3 billion. And all the time, the increase in traffic and packaging is adding to the collective size of everyone’s carbon footprint. One of my favourite examples to illustrate the impact of deliveries on traffic congestion and emissions is as follows.
Imagine an optician’s shop on a high street somewhere. Every week it has a delivery of 500 sets of contact lenses – one van making one delivery to one location. During the days that follow, customers will come in and collect their contact lenses. Now imagine those 500 customers choosing to have their lenses delivered to them at home on different days. It will require multiple trips, possibly involving multiple delivery vehicles, and if the vans aren’t full those trips are uneconomical as well as pollution-causing. Convenience is great, of course. But it can come at a high cost.
Going loco for hyper local
Way back in January 2017, on the
Convenience shopping – smaller basket value, higher frequency of visits – is more common now than it has been for a very long time. Another recent trend is the increasing call for on-demand delivery – place an order and get it sent to you within the hour. These two very different scenarios contain elements of the same headache for retailers.
Getting stock on the shelves to meet the needs of grazing shoppers is a challenge. Retailers like to replenish their stores via large DCs, using large vehicles to maximise efficiencies. But that won’t always work in an urban environment. Large HGVs aren’t always a great fit for built-up areas.
With increasing homogenisation and commoditisation of products made available by retailers, the ability to offer great service and always keep your delivery promises is the new differentiator many shoppers are looking for.
Having stock available for on-demand delivery requires either a crystal ball that allows you to predict what will be ordered in the near-future, or a zen-like control of all your stock. Thankfully, you don’t need to live like a monk or a hermit to achieve fulfilment zen. But you do need to have the capacity to store frequently-ordered items close to your customers – you need hyper-local storage and shipping. It might sound obvious, but you can’t get an item to a customer within the hour if your DC is several miles away, on the wrong side of a congested town.
This article first appeared in my regular thought-leadership column for the London-based startup Parcelly.