What does a sustainable future in on-demand delivery look like?

Glovo's head of social impact and sustainability Sébastien Pellion, how logistics, manufacturing and transport will need to converge on new sustainability solutions to appease the demand of consumers.

What does a sustainable future in on-demand delivery look like?

Sustainability is, and rightly should be, an area businesses are increasingly scrutinised on, not only by official bodies but their customers too. A recent study by Deloitte found the majority (64%) of consumers want to see better schemes to reduce plastic and packaging, with half of them seeking information on how to recycle it. One industry that saw significant growth thanks to consumer habits during the pandemic was the on-demand delivery sector, with demand more than doubling last year. From April to September 2020, the combined revenue of Uber, DoorDash, Grubhub and Postmates was roughly $5.5bn, more than twice that of 2019.

Consumers are now accustomed to speedy home delivery, of food, groceries and everyday essentials, in as little as 15 minutes. Yet with advances in Q-Commerce (quick commerce) it’s important to consider the environmental impact this rapid delivery is having on the planet. In the UK alone, the last year has seen numerous on-demand grocery companies emerge; including Weezy, Getir and Gorillas. The promise of essentials delivered in minutes offers convenience on an ultra-fast scale, but the impact of multiple, smaller orders on our carbon footprint must also be considered. 

For long-term success, businesses need to do more than just discuss new sustainable initiatives, but rather act on them; from reducing single-use plastic, to achieving carbon neutrality. Sustainability in the on-demand sector goes beyond reducing emissions – it’s about creating a positive social and environmental impact, starting with changes in transport, packaging and food waste. 

Carbon-conscious transport

Implementing sustainable initiatives can seem a mammoth task, especially for larger companies. But don’t be discouraged. Even the smallest changes will make an impact, and there are various initiatives delivery companies can implement immediately, starting with the vehicles couriers use. There is a growing trend for more environmentally friendly options to replace cars, mopeds and motorbikes, such as e-bikes. Not only are they a sustainable way to travel, but e-bikes offer speed, efficiency and can cost the rider less in the long term. The shift to electric transport will help to play a huge role in the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and limiting pollution, particularly in busy city centres where the bulk of delivery drivers operate. 

Large corporations are waking up to the need for such changes. Logistics company DHL has started using e-bikes for its delivery arm and also has a riverboat parcel service in London to navigate a congestion-free route through the capital. Partnerships, with the likes of Pachama and South Pole – initiatives that help companies measure and reduce their carbon footprint – are taking off. This is what has enabled us to commit to be the first delivery company to become carbon neutral across all operations by the end of this year. 

Thanks to deep-learning technology, autonomous vehicles and robots are one of the latest means of transporting goods, and offer a more sustainable means of getting deliveries to doorsteps. US firm Starship Technologies is being trialled by numerous chains in America, including Starbucks and Subway. Environmentally friendly robots, in replacement of large vehicles, are a more sustainable means of delivering goods without compromising on time.

Planet-friendly packaging solutions 

It is no longer enough for a delivery company to just get the product to the customer’s doorstep. Delivery players need to ensure that their service is reliable, efficient and conscious of the impact it has on the planet. As an industry, we have already started work on meeting this challenge, with various delivery players partnering with reusable packaging companies. Deliveroo France is the latest to announce a partnership of this kind by working with barePack. Customers sign up to the barePack app and are then sent a passcode they can use to return containers to any restaurant participating. 

We are working with Bûmerang, offering similar solutions so customers can have their food delivered in reusable containers and find a drop off point to return them. The EU no longer allows certain single-use plastic items to be placed on the Member States market. This external directive serves as an important and positive reinforcement for delivery companies to ensure they are setting the standard when it comes to packaging best practice. 

Putting a stop to food waste

Combining an increasing population with the ease of on-demand delivery, competitive pricing and a variety of choices, food waste from consumers and suppliers is on the rise. It is estimated that 14% of food, valued at around $400bn, is currently going to waste globally.

Delivery companies are able to mitigate this, and we can look to examples of some steps already taken by retailers of all sizes. Advances in technology have made way for software programmes such as LeanPath, which allows institutional kitchens such as Google Food to identify sources of food waste and understand how to better manage any surplus food. In its 2020 Environment Report, Google announced it had prevented £9.2 million of food waste across its cafes globally through its work with Leanpath. In 2019, DoorDash introduced a social impact program, Project DASH, to tackle food waste and hunger by using its network of restaurant partners to match uneaten prepared food with hungry people. It has now delivered 6.5 million meals through this initiative. We’re doing something similar, using logistics partners to collect surplus and leftovers from our partners to donate them to NGOs.

In the future, we can expect to see on-demand delivery players starting to build their own product features or partner with companies offering this as a service. It’s a win win for all. The business reduces the waste, while still making money from the leftovers, and customers get a product at a discounted price. 

As a growing industry sector, we have a responsibility to play a more impactful role, have more accountability and focus more on sustainability efforts. With the right investments into carbon neutrality, preventing waste throughout the ecosystem, from courier transport and packaging, these small steps will make monumental changes.

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