The Hidden Environmental Cost of Amazon Prime’s Free, Fast Shipping
Even if Amazon optimized solely for consolidation and fuel efficiency, consumers are shopping so often that it makes sustainable, efficient delivery difficult.
Free and fast shipping has always been a Prime membership’s marquee perk — one that’s drawn in over 100 million subscribers who pay $119 annually. A 2017 study by UPS found that nearly all (96%) US customers had made a purchase on a marketplace like Amazon or Walmart, and over half (55%) said free or discounted shipping was the primary reason.
That convenience is encouraging people in the US to buy more, and to make more individual purchases rather than placing a single order for several items.
people aren’t offsetting the traffic to shopping malls and grocery stores by buying online. “The problem is we are still doing both, meaning there are more emissions and more congestion,”
Amazon is only speeding up customers’ options. In addition to free two-day shipping for Prime members, Amazon added free two-hour delivery with a new service, called Prime Now, in 2014, and it increasingly relies on hundreds of thousands of independent contractors with passenger cars to make those deliveries. Amazon’s Flex program, which operates in 50 US cities, is an app-based platform like Uber, but instead of dropping off people, Flex drivers drop off Prime packages or groceries.
Those drivers’ cars are typically smaller than commercial delivery vehicles, so they can’t fit as many packages or complete as many deliveries per tour. They’re taking longer routes, too. “Drivers are going from their home base to a warehouse to your house, and back to their home base. And warehouses are farther than the store you would have gone to,” Goodchild said.