It’s Always Greener On The Other Side Of The Mall

The Simon Property Group argues that going to the mall is greener than ordering online. SCMR’s authors argue the answer is not so black and white (or green).

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One of the first events I attended in the summer of 2013 when I became the editor of Supply Chain Management Review was the annual supply conference at . The challenges of omni-channel distribution and last mile delivery was emerging as a hot topic back then and it was front and center at the conference.

One of the thoughts I had that day was this: Which is more green? A gazillion delivery trucks making a gazillion deliveries every day or driving to the mall? My theory is that the Millennials who live their lives online and on Amazon are also said to be the generation that is most attuned to issues around sustainability and corporate responsibility. What would they think, I wondered, if it turned out that the convenience of shopping online came at the expense of the environment? 

As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one asking that question. This week, the Wall Street Journal that the Simon Property Group has recently published a that suggests that going to the mall could be better for the environment than online shopping. Their argument is that mall shoppers often travel in groups, buy more than one item during a trip while online shoppers return products more often and that shipping requires more packaging – and that’s just ending up in the landfill.

While that makes intuitive sense to me, I have to say: Not so fast. Last summer, I spoke to Anne Goodchild, an associate professor at the , who was completing research into the question of whether the answer to the question is a zero-sum game: You can provide fast, free shipping across a variety of sales channels or less-timely green delivery to address the rising environmental concerns of consumers. According to , Goodchild’s research published in the March issue of SCMR, home deliveries to multiple consumers in one truck generate less total CO2 than the alternative of many individual vehicles traveling to local stores. While the Simon Property Research assumes that e-commerce shoppers make a lot of returns in the reverse supply chain, Goodchild’s research assumes that shoppers may often travel to two stores to buy one item because one store is out of stock.

To reach their conclusion, Goodchild and her team built a simulation tool to compare various logistical strategies for last-mile delivery of groceries in the Seattle area: passenger vehicle only; local depot delivery; and regional warehouse delivery. They also took in real-world variables such as customer density and delivery windows by comparing results in the dense urban areas in the Seattle metro area, a suburb of Seattle and a rural area southeast of Seattle.

Goodchild’s bottom line: The answer to the question is not either/or – you can either have it fast or have it green – and that companies who put a value on sustainability, or whose customers want to be green, can devise delivery strategies and options for their customers.

About the Author

Bob Trebilcock
Bob Trebilcock, editorial director, has covered materials handling, technology, logistics and supply chain topics for nearly 30 years. In addition to Supply Chain Management Review, he is also Executive Editor of Modern Materials Handling. A graduate of Bowling Green State University, Trebilcock lives in Keene, NH. He can be reached at 603-357-0484.

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