Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Seoul National University shed light on efficiencies of socially networked local delivery

What if your cell phone and social network could help deliver packages for you – AND reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

This may be more likely, easier and more beneficial to the environment than you might think, researchers at the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment and Seoul National University report in the current issue of Environmental Science & Technology.

Online shopping may be economical and convenient from the shopper’s standpoint, but it can also carry a hefty environmental price. Particularly, the “last mile” of local delivery is the retail system’s largest contributor to fossil fuel consumption, CO2 and local air emissions. Replacing traditional home truck delivery with pickup locations can help in some instances. But in the suburbs, such systems can actually increase overall travel distances and emissions as personal vehicles detour from their normal daily activity to make the pickup.

That is, according to the ES&T article, unless you can find a few good friends to help.

The study used spatial and agent-based models to investigate the potential environmental benefits of enlisting social networks to help deliver packages. While sensitive to how often trusted and willing friends can be found in close proximity to both the package and the recipient within a day, results indicate that very small degrees of network engagement can lead to very large efficiency gains.

Compared to a typical home delivery route, greenhouse gas emissions reductions from a socially networked pickup system were projected to range from 45 percent to 98 percent, depending on the social connectedness of the recipients and the willingness of individuals in their social networks to participate.

“What is important is that sharing be allowed in the system, not how many ultimately chose to share time or resources,” says study co-author Timothy Smith, director of IonE’s NorthStar Initiative for Sustainable Enterprise. “We find that providing the relatively few really inefficient actors in the network the opportunity to seek the help of many better positioned actors can radically improve performance.”

This is particularly relevant today, Smith says, as online retailers such as Amazon begin introducing delivery pickup lockers in grocery, convenience and drug stores.

Source: Institute on the Environment MINNEAPOLIS / ST. PAUL (08/21/2012)IMG_2244.JPG


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