The Hidden Emissions of Lockers and Pick-up Locations

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Lockers are often considered the best solution for lowering emissions. They are convenient and vans do not need to drive miles to get to each house. But what is the catch? According to new research by Aura Innovation Centre (AIC), part of University of Hull, and iParcelBox, a company providing at-home smart parcel lockers, emissions can be sometimes reduced by opting for home deliveries. We spoke to Paul Needler, founder of iParcelBox about the results of the research and why pick-up locations are not always the best solution for the environment.

Paul Needler from iParcelBox is joining us this November 22nd during Last Mile & E-Com Online Event. Get your free ticket now!

What was the idea behind the research and the problem you tried to explore?

One of the things over the last couple of years that I have noticed in the logistics industry, is the growth of the notion that Out-of-Home Deliveries are absolutely sustainable. In practice, however, previous research has not looked at the full picture. What they usually say is that encouraging consumers to collect their parcels reduces courier emissions. Of course, that is true because the courier is not delivering the parcel themselves. But not many take into account the way the consumer collects the parcel.

That begs the question whether for the environment as a whole Out-of-Home Delivery is actually better. We also have to recognise that Home Delivery is not always the right scenario but there would be a blend of solutions.

The research with AIC aims at giving people facts that would allow them to make their own fact-based decision. We focus on the last mile and how parcels get to the consumer. Very quickly we realised that the results on how sustainable it is depends on how the consumer collects their orders. Yes, when a courier drops off a large volume of orders at a locker, their emissions drop down. If the consumer can walk and collect it from the locker, there are no added emissions. But we know that lockers are not always within walking distance.

Aura Innovation Centre

Aura Innovation Centre (AIC) is led by the University of Hull and supports ideas and innovative solutions to accelerate low-carbon projects, drive green innovation and deliver clean business growth. Based on an initial concept from iParcelBox, Aura funded academic research by the University that showcased the difference in emissions between home deliveries and Out-of-Home deliveries, once the hidden emissions of the customer collection are taken into account. Aura works with NGOs, commercial companies, governments and other stakeholders to deliver results in key areas of interest. You can read the research about Out-of-Home Deliveries and the benefits of Home Delivery here.

What is the role of consumers’ behaviour when it comes to collecting from a locker then?

Different people have different behaviour. Some would go and collect their parcel when they have more things to do near the pick up location but others would just drive there to get their order. What our research shows is that it is down to the consumers’ individual situation to determine what is the right and most sustainable solution for them. There is not a one-fits-all solution. If you drive to pick up your parcel from a locker that is not more sustainable. Of course, many people live within a few metres of a corner shop where they can collect parcels.

Paul Needler, Founder of iParcelBox will be part of our Last Mile & E-Com Online Event on the 22nd November. Don’t miss him talking about Out-of-Home Delivery Misconceptions.


You have also created a Carbon Calculator Tool to help people see their real emissions. How does it work?

The Carbon Calculator is available to everyone and is very simple. Consumers can input their home address and the address of their local pick up points.

The calculator will then ask people if they are combining the collection with another trip or if they are going just to collect the order. People also can choose the way they will collect the parcel: by foot, by car, etc.

The tool takes into account all of the information and gives a result that shows what the combined emissions are. In addition, it can compare different options. For some of them it will be more sustainable to have it delivered at home. Of course, combining it with another journey is better but not all people do this trip-chaining. (The CO2 tool below).

And who is the tool for?

It is primarily for consumers and those people who are increasingly interested with the emissions associated with their orders. The tool allows them to make better decisions and contribute to the overall sustainability effort. We would also like to encourage retailers and other large companies to use tools like this one. Often companies make consumers choose a pick-up option and market it as sustainable but as we have seen, that might not be the case.

If you are in Central London and can walk a couple of hundred meters to the local collection point then collecting is going to be the best solution, but in a rural area a delivery might be the more sustainable option.

How does the type of vehicle affect the results?

Depending on the mode of transport being used, overall emissions increase or decrease, of course. For different types of vehicles the difference might be marginal. In general, and this comes as no surprise at all, walking is the best choice. For longer trips that is not really the realistic option, however.

Isn’t it obvious by now that one-size-fits-all is not the right solution?

It is intuitively true but many reports and organisations ignore it. Often blank statements are made about the benefits of Out-of-Home with no reference to how orders are being collected by consumers. We hope to raise that issue and suggest different options.

Does this mean we need more drop-off locations?

If lockers are closer to people’s homes, of course, they will be more likely to use them. The capital investment associated with that will be enormous. Lockers are not always close to people and they have no other option but to drive. In Central London the answer is very different but not in rural areas.

In order for lockers to always be more sustainable, the density has to be very high. Also, you can’t have every parcel delivered to every location. The research with the University of Hull provides a look into this.

What is the place of iParcelBox in this?

We recognise that for many locations getting your parcel at home will actually be the most sustainable. This only works if you are able to guarantee a first time delivery. When this is not the case, emissions for parcels shoot up very quickly.

For us, in locations where at-home delivery is the most sustainable, consumers have to do their bit to enable the first-time delivery. This is where solutions like iParcelBox fit. ✷

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