Viewpoint: Culture of convenience worsens emissions, but solutions arise

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By Frank Mycroft

In many ways, we’re lucky to be living in the modern culture of convenience. Tasks that once took hours of our day are now automated or simply avoided through innovation, leaving us more down time for the things that make us happy. But often, this comes with an environmental trade-off. Bottled beverages and packaging amplify the production of single-use plastics, bug-free fruit is soaked in pesticides, nonstick pans leach forever chemicals into waterways, and high-speed delivery of goods exacerbates emissions while clogging roads.

E-commerce and delivery have exploded in recent years and will surely continue to do so; demand for urban last-mile delivery is estimated to grow another 78% by 2030, matched by a 36% increase in e-commerce delivery vehicles on inner-city roads. At that rate, related emissions are expected to grow by more than 30% in 100 cities globally and commutes will be an average of 11 minutes longer by the end of this decade — not so convenient for those who want to limit global warming and make it to work in reasonable time.

The impact of convenience

This traces back to a common blind spot within convenience culture: Consumers may not consider the environmental impact of on-demand and expedited delivery. Often, these deliveries amount to driving hundreds of miles to and from the store for just one item, which the consumer may have been able to easily grab on a weekly grocery run. As last-mile delivery market growth demands that more vehicles — fleets of delivery vans, for example — travel at a faster rate, millions of trucks are running 24/7/365, causing emissions, pollution and fuel usage to skyrocket.

In response, the same retail mobility framework that has revolutionized shopping has hit the transportation industry in the form of mobile energy delivery. In conjunction with thoughtfully deployed data analytics, intentional routing and an open-minded approach to energy, mobility retail has the potential to support a humming supply chain while stymieing related emissions.

Reimagining fueling

Keeping emissions down and roads clear for consumers means limiting driving time and fuel burned for delivery vehicles. This can be achieved, in part, by reimagining the way vehicles fuel. In the current model, most fleet vehicles rely on off-route gas station errands to fill up. In a fleet of 100, each day might include 100 individual trips to the gas station, which average about 2.2 added driving miles each. This adds extraneous drive time and fuel burned by each vehicle, which adds up quickly — to an average of 260 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per vehicle per year just from traveling to and from the gas station.

Mobile energy delivery flips the fueling model, delivering the fuel source directly from the terminal to the vehicles during nonoperating hours. It can take the form of mobile fuel delivery for traditional internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, or can accommodate zero-emission vehicles by placing modular solutions like mobile electric vehicle (EV) charging hubs or portable hydrogen fueling stations at or near fleet yards, transportation hubs or distribution centers — anywhere a fleet vehicle is already going. This eliminates the need for gas station errands by fleet drivers, along with the associated time and vehicle wear and tear, to significantly reduce emissions.

Data provides intelligence

But a change in energy delivery is not the only way to curb last-mile delivery emissions. Carefully deployed data analytics can also help fleet managers optimize operations with real-time insight into fueling, maintenance needs, fleet performance and driver behavior. Raw data, often collected through fleet telematics, can be interpreted through interactive data dashboards to inform clear action items around long-term trends. Analytics can even be tied to specific company key performance indicators or emissions targets, allowing fleet managers the transparency needed to make adjustments along the way to keep emissions on the right track.

Watch: How to build a sustainable freight ecosystem

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As last-mile fleets become larger, work longer hours and take on new and less experienced drivers, a range of factors from tire pressure to driver behavior to route optimization can affect fuel efficiency and, in turn, boost emissions. With weaponized data insights, fleet managers can have transparency into the on-the-ground performance of their fleets, gaining the insight they need to lead drivers and make smarter business decisions to keep emissions low.

Renewable fuels offer promise

Last-mile delivery fleets looking to decarbonize might also turn to renewable fuels. A GHG emissions inventory by the California Air Resources Board found that renewable fuels like renewable diesel eliminated 15 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020, the equivalent of taking more than 3 million passenger cars off the roads. As fleets slowly incorporate more capital-intensive sustainability solutions like electrification, renewable fuels can help them decarbonize their remaining ICE vehicles without expensive upgrades or part replacements.

While all of these solutions can be deployed individually to realize emissions reductions, their greatest potential is unlocked when they are combined. Renewable fuels, for example, are rarely offered at gas stations but can be easily accessed through mobile fuelers. Mobile energy delivery on its own can offer significant emissions reductions, but those can be optimized even further if fueling data from the service is input into data analytics software to glean actionable insights into fleet trends around fuel consumption, emissions burned and more.

The crux of the sustainability movement for fleets is that sustainable, decarbonized choices must be practical and simple to integrate into existing operations. The vast majority of fleets lack the capital or resources to make large, infrastructure-intensive investments into complicated fleet transitions, and transitioning fleets to carbon neutrality often requires both.

Much like the consumer market, fleet managers crave convenience, an offering all the more enticing if it boosts sustainability at a time when decarbonizing the growing last-mile delivery market is top of mind. By combining a range of solutions — mobile energy delivery, data analytics and renewable fuels — fleets can begin to work toward a carbon-neutral last-mile delivery market.

Maybe one day soon we won’t have to choose between same-day delivery or preserving a livable planet — the modern consumer can only dream.

About the author

Frank Mycroft is the CEO and founder of Booster, obsessed with fueling the energy transition and helping the mobility sector win. He believes that a modular, infrastructure-light, and data-driven approach to energy for transportation can drive both energy resiliency and sustainability, without offering a false choice between the two. Mycroft’s education and experience span industries and coasts, including degrees from Princeton, Stanford and Harvard and experience working at McKinsey & Co, NASA, Planetary Resources, and Boeing.

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