Comparative analysis of the carbon footprints of conventional and online retailing: A "last mile" perspective

Julia B. Edwards, Alan C. McKinnon, Sharon L. Cullinane

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    275 Citations (Scopus)


    Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to focus on the carbon intensity of "last mile" deliveries (i.e. deliveries of goods from local depots to the home) and personal shopping trips. Design/methodology/approach: Several last mile scenarios are constructed for the purchase of small, non-food items, such as books, CDs, clothing, cameras and household items. Official government data, operational data from a large logistics service provider, face-to-face and telephone interviews with company managers and realistic assumptions derived from the literature form the basis of the calculations. Allowance has been made for home delivery failures, "browsing" trips to the shops and the return of unwanted goods. Findings: Overall, the research suggests that, while neither home delivery nor conventional shopping has an absolute CO2 advantage, on average, the home delivery operation is likely to generate less CO2 than the typical shopping trip. Nevertheless, CO2 emissions per item for intensive/infrequent shopping trips by bus could match online shopping/home delivery. Research limitations/implications: The number of items purchased per shopping trip, the choice of travel mode and the willingness to combine shopping with other activities and to group purchases into as few shopping trips or online transactions as possible are shown to be critical factors. Online retailers and home delivery companies could also apply measures (e.g. maximising drop densities and increasing the use of electric vehicles) to enhance the CO2 efficiency of their logistical operations and gain a clearer environmental advantage. Practical implications: Both consumers and suppliers need to be made more aware of the environmental implications of their respective purchasing behaviour and distribution methods so that potential CO2 savings can be made. Originality/value: The paper offers insights into the carbon footprints of conventional and online retailing from a "last mile" perspective. © Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)103-123
    Number of pages21
    JournalInternational Journal of Physical Distribution and Logistics Management
    Issue number1-2
    Publication statusPublished - 2010


    • Air pollution
    • Carbon
    • Delivery services
    • Distribution channels and markets
    • Internet shopping


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