Grocery Delivery Services Save Gas, Lower Carbon Emissions
April 29, 2013

Grocery Delivery Services Save Gas, Lower Carbon Emissions

Brett Smith for — Your Universe Online

While having groceries delivered to your home or office can seem like a luxury or guilty pleasure, new research from the University of Washington shows a grocery delivery service is actually better for the environment than driving to the store yourself.

"A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn't the case here," said Anne Goodchild, UW associate professor of civil and environmental engineering. "From an environmental perspective, grocery delivery services overwhelmingly can provide emissions reductions."

According to a study by Goodchild and her UW colleague Erica Wygonik published in Journal of the Transportation Research Forum, a delivery service can cut carbon emissions by at least half compared with individual trips to the store. Large delivery trucks filled to capacity were found to maximize the reduction in emissions.

"What's good for the bottom line of the delivery service provider is generally going to be good for the environment, because fuel is such a big contributor to operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions," Wygonik said. "Saving fuel saves money, which also saves on emissions."

In the study, the UW team chose a portion of households from Seattle and King Country municipal data to select customers and assign them to their closest grocery store. According to the researchers, this allowed them to compensate for socioeconomic factors.

Using an EPA modeling tool, the team then calculated emissions on a detailed level. The researchers also considered factors such as vehicle type, speed and roadway type.

Goodchild and Wygonik found delivery service trucks were able to cut 20 to 75 percent of the carbon dioxide produced by personal vehicles taking the same trip. They also discovered significantly less carbon emitted, 80 to 90 percent, if the service delivered based on the most efficient routes.

The research team also found emissions reductions in both the densely populated and more suburban parts of Seattle.

"We tend to think of grocery delivery services as benefiting urban areas, but they have really significant potential to offset the environmental impacts of personal shopping in rural areas as well," Wygonik said.

In their conclusion, Goodchild and Wygonik noted commuters are offered a number of incentives to reduce traffic and emissions by carpool lanes and other programs. They questioned if the same types of incentives could be applied to grocery delivery services that can effectively reduce emissions and fuel consumption.

The UW team said their future studies plan to examine the effect of customers combining their grocery shopping with a work commute and how a delivery service's home-base location impacts emissions.

Internet access has facilitated the growth of grocery delivery services across the country: from AmazonFresh in the study´s Seattle area, to FreshDirect´s service for residences and offices in the New York City area to Safeway´s delivery services in many other US cities.

Last month, Google debuted a trial shopping delivery service in the San Francisco Bay Area, and many other cities have seen delivery startups filling in local market niches.