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What’s the Most Environmentally Friendly Way To Get Your Groceries?

What’s the Most Environmentally Friendly Way To Get Your Groceries?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way grocers do business, with online sales increasing by more than 50% from 2019 to 2020 in the US.

Grocery stores have turned to the growing demand for e-commerce as shoppers look for safe and convenient ways to get their essentials. Small automated warehouses (often located within existing stores) called micro-fulfillment centers allow grocers to fulfill pickup orders more quickly, sometimes within an hour of the order. It is now possible.

At the same time, continued advances in self-driving cars, robots, and drones promise new options for consumers in the near future.

So how do all these changes affect the amount of climate-altering greenhouse gases generated by grocery shopping? So what can consumers do to minimize their carbon footprint?

To find out, researchers at the University of Michigan and Ford Motor Company modeled the emissions of a single grocery basket of 36 items delivered to customers through dozens of traditional e-commerce channels.

Among the various scenarios the researchers analyzed, in-store purchases by customers driving internal combustion engine pickup trucks generated the most emissions (expressed in kilograms of CO2 equivalent)8. According to a study published online on May 5, the journal environmental science and technology.

Studies show that when customers switch to electric sedans, SUVs, or pickup trucks to shop in-store, their overall greenhouse gas emissions are 39% to 51% compared to internal combustion engines of the same style. % decreased.

Other findings include:

  • All delivery options are lower emissions than in-store shopping with internal combustion engines, reflecting the importance of ‘last mile’ transportation emissions, which refers to the last step in the delivery process.
  • For a single item being delivered to a customer living near a store with a micro-fulfillment center, the drone provided the route with the lowest emissions. Kroger and Walmart are among the companies testing drone delivery of groceries.
  • In the full basket of 36 items, home delivery by a suitcase-sized “sidewalk robot” was the most successful. These 4- or 6-wheeled automatic machines have a delivery range of 2 miles and have been tested in cities in the US, China and Europe, although they are not widely available.
  • For shoppers living outside delivery zones, curbside pickup using EV sedans has helped reduce emissions. Further reductions were achieved by shopping at grocery stores with micro-fulfillment centers and by combining grocery trips with other errands.

“This study lays a foundation for understanding the impact of e-commerce on greenhouse gas emissions generated by grocery supply chains,” said the study’s senior author. Greg KeorianDirector of the UM School’s Center for Sustainable Systems for Environment and Sustainability.

“We also highlight the important role consumers can play in reducing emissions by using trip chains and carefully planned grocery orders.”

The lead author of the Environmental Science & Technology study is Nicholas Kemp, a former MSc student at the School for Environment and Sustainability. Other co-authors included researchers at the Ford Research and Innovation Center in Dearborn.

The “base case” for this study is an internal combustion SUV purchased in-store. Emission reductions were achieved when customers ordered online or switched to electric vehicles (18% to 42% reduction in emissions). Shop at stores with micro-fulfillment centers (16% to 54% discount). Or use a grocery delivery service (22% to 65% reduction).

Shopping frequency and travel chains were also important factors for households to consider, according to the researchers. Compared to the base case, halving the frequency of shopping cuts greenhouse gas emissions by 44%, and using trip chains cuts greenhouse gas emissions by about half.

Grocers, including Kroger, use large automated warehouses called fulfillment centers, while several other companies, including Whole Foods, Meyer, and Albertsons, have invested in micro-fulfillment centers. increase.

MFC can act as the hub in a hub-and-spoke distribution model. They typically serve multiple stores, including the one they are housed in.

In-store MFCs typically fill up to 80% of online grocery orders, with the remaining 20% ​​filled by employees picking items from the store shelves. Today, MFC is primarily used to process curbside pickup orders placed online.

Greenhouse gas emissions associated with grocery store operations are primarily split between lighting, refrigeration, and HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. Studies show that in-store MFCs can process online orders much more efficiently than brick-and-mortar stores, helping reduce these emissions by up to 67%.

As part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s global effort to achieve emissions reductions, the authors use the emissions reduction opportunities identified in their study to guide the decarbonization of food systems. It can be combined with other strategies, such as changing diets and reducing food waste, he said. target.

reference: Kemp NJ, Li L, Keoleian GA, Kim HC, Wallington TJ, De Kleine R. Carbon footprint of alternative grocery shopping and transportation options from retail distribution centers to customers. environmental science and technology2022. Doi: 10.1021/acs.est.2c02050

This article is reprinted from materialNote: The length and content of the material may have been redacted. Please contact the citation source for details.

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