We’re living in a society where we’re constantly encouraged to do ‘better for the planet’. And I don’t disagree. But we’re at a point of inflection when a lot of people don’t know what’s best for the planet. From fake news to real news – it’s information overload everywhere you turn.
Recycling your plastic should be simple, but that’s another article depending on where you live and which type of plastic it is. Buy more sustainable products. Shampoo in a block is great if you have the money to buy more expensive products.
And there’s the biggest conundrum for most people when we’re thinking about the environment and greenhouse gas emissions. If I order online for delivery am I burning more carbon than necessary? Or is it more environmentally friendly to go to the shops, buy a less environmentally friendly product but save the delivery van a journey? How we expect people to know the answer, when many of us in retail don’t know it, is beyond me! It’s all rather complicated.
The impact of FMCG
I read an interesting study from the American Chemical Society that looked into the estimated emissions created by UK sales of FMCG goods, typically low-priced toiletries, packaged foods and cleaning supplies. Although shoppers have traditionally bought these items at brick and mortar shops, online sales are increasing.
The study compared the carbon footprints of three different shopping practices: old fashioned ‘bricks and mortar’ shopping and the two main forms of e-commerce, bricks and clicks and pure play (which both have different supply chain configurations). Included in the three models were emissions from transport, warehouse storage, delivery and packaging.
The results showed that the total emmissions per item purchased from bricks and mortar retailers were higher than bricks and clicks vendors in 63% of cases, but lower than pure play in 81% of cases. It appears that more items are usually purchased from bricks and clicks retailers is used and this leads to a smaller carbon footprint per item than for the same shopping trip via a brick and mortar retailer. Another factor is, of course, that one van driver bringing multiple deliveries into one area will create fewer emissions than all those people driving to the shops.
The study made some clear but obvious recommendations for consumers for cutting emissions across all three shopping categories: walking, cycling and trip chaining for brick and mortar; and purchasing from a single retailer and bundling for bricks and clicks and for pure play online retailers. Importantly for pure play businesses – whose share of the FMCG category is on the increase – switching to electric cargo bikes could cut emissions by 26%.
I’ve tried to simplify what is actually a complex study, but it does highlight the dilemma and responsibility we have as consumers and retailers to the planet. In a recent online shopping survey we conducted among 2,000 consumers, 73% said they were concerned about the environmental impact of excessive packaging, 75% single use plastics and 42% multiple deliveries to one address. There is a clear will from consumers to want to do better for the planet but it’s far too complex for them to work out how. So, retailers, trade bodies and governments need to do more to educate consumers so they can make the right choices not just any choice.
Our current Covid-19 situation is only temporary, so my mantra as we come out of the other side of it is just to take a little more time to think before you shop.
Daniel Todaro, managing director, Gekko