Technology-Enabled Green Practices are the Way Forward for the Logistics and E-commerce Sector

By: Wang Haosu, Head of Green Initiatives, Cainiao

A New Green Frontier For Business

Despite the impact of the global pandemic, businesses have adjusted and are seeing new opportunities in the shifting landscape. E-Commerce activities have soared and so has the popularity of doorstep food deliveries and click-and-collect groceries. Regardless of the industry, logistics is now key to keeping the world connected through commerce.

Asia’s economy is set to experience a strong rebound in 2021, as the vaccine rollout improves consumer sentiment and creates fresh opportunities for the e-Commerce industry. But as businesses prepare to bounce back, they must do so in a challenging operating environment, with consumer values and demands having changed dramatically over the course of an unprecedented year.

Foremost on consumers’ minds is holding businesses to higher standards, particularly when it comes to their sustainable practices. Accenture’s 2020 retail consumer behaviour report found that 61 per cent of consumers today are making more environmentally friendly, sustainable or ethical purchases, with 89 per cent likely to continue post-crisis.

Eliminating environmentally unsustainable practices is also an investment in a more resilient and competitive business strategy. One of the best ways to achieve this is by working with responsible logistics ecosystem partners, by adopting environmentally friendly packaging practices and by leveraging emerging technologies for smart and efficient deliveries.

Green Packaging For Less Waste And Better Efficiency

While many companies instinctively look towards complex solutions to reduce carbon footprint, increase efficiency and competitiveness, there are simpler and more meaningful ways to get started, such as transitioning to smart, sustainable packaging.

This is one of the most straightforward ways to tackle waste and operational inefficiencies. Instead of using conventional packaging sealed with tape and covered with numerous paper shipping documents, companies can utilise reusable, biodegradable zipper boxes and smaller form electronic shipping labels.

This helps to significantly reduce waste while adding new dimensions of information that are key to improving traceability and efficiency. Simply switching to e-shipping labels alone has helped companies on Cainiao’s logistic network to save 2.2 billion pieces of paper during last year’s 11.11. shopping festival.

Emerging Technologies Empower Resource-efficient Smart Deliveries

Emerging technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Algorithms and 5G can be used together with green packaging to maximise efficiency and reduce waste even further across the entire supply chain.

At the warehouse, smart-packaging algorithms can be used to sort products into green packaging of the optimal size, ensuring that shipments are protected while minimising waste from overpacking. E-shipping labels on these boxes can empower businesses to track them in real-time, allowing end-to-end monitoring and optimisation of the shipment’s journey.

During last mile delivery, IoT, big data and algorithms can work together to provide couriers with the shortest, most energy-efficient route to the customer, improving delivery efficiency and speed while reducing carbon emissions.

The same technologies can also be used to analyse delivery activity and consumer demand in service areas, helping businesses to identify ideal locations to expand logistics networks to serve customers more efficiently.

New developments in automation and connectivity are also set to push the envelope of smart deliveries. Businesses can work with logistics providers who equip their warehouses with autonomous robots, smart sorting systems, 5G infrastructure and IoT devices that supercharge efficiency.

On the road, smart electric vehicles equipped with new generation GPS and 5G technologies will soon enable businesses to collect more comprehensive data on deliveries and to push the boundaries of route optimisation and reduction of emissions even further.

Partnering With Responsible Ecosystem Partners To Amplify The Eco Impact

However, green packaging and smart deliveries will not go far without the support of an ecosystem of responsible partners. The supply chain is made up of various players to complete an end-to-end transaction — from merchants, warehouse operator, to the logistics partner, and the last-mile delivery company.

To amplify the positive impact of green packaging and smart deliveries, businesses at each stage must work together to adopt a common set of sustainable and green practices.

While this includes incentivising the use of biodegradable materials for packaging at all stages of the supply chain, it also involves encouraging consumers to properly recycle and reuse the packaging material, and ensuring that they have the channels to do so.

The Best Time To Kickstart Green Business

Although consumer preferences today demand convenience delivered to their doorstep, this has to be balanced with a commitment to protecting the environment for years to come. Fortunately, the steps taken to achieving both goals can often be aligned.

While becoming a greener business takes time, investment and many operational changes, there is no better time to start than today’s ‘Great Reset’. The pandemic has forced businesses to streamline operations and this very need to adapt presents the perfect opportunity for companies to transform their practices for a more resilient business and sustainable world.

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