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Secrets to improving last-mile delivery sustainability

Companies such as L'Occitane en Provence and Walmart are trying out different strategies to improve their last-mile delivery sustainability. Here's how they're doing it.

As companies examine their operations' sustainability, the last mile has come under particular scrutiny. Integral parts of the process like packing materials and delivery vehicles can be some of the most environmentally harmful parts of the supply chain.

In response, some organizations are trying to address this problem. Many are taking a multi-pronged approach, since last-mile delivery -- like the rest of logistics and supply chain management -- is so complicated.

Here are four companies that are attempting to improve their last-mile delivery sustainability and the steps they're taking.

1. FreshBox Farms: Focus on vertical farming, local customers

FreshBox Farms is an indoor vertical farm located in Millis, Mass. Vertical farms offer a number of sustainability-related benefits, including minimizing water use and reducing food waste, a major environmental concern.

The farm grows leafy greens such as heirloom lettuce, arugula and spinach for Boston-area grocers. FreshBox Farms' customers include Whole Foods and Roche Brothers.

As with other farms that deliver locally, FreshBox Farms' produce travels a relatively short distance -- in this case, about 30 miles from Millis to Boston, said Craig Ratajczyk, CEO of FreshBox Farms' parent company Crop One Holdings, which is located in Millis, Mass. This business model produces fewer last-mile emissions than shipping vegetables across the country. FreshBox Farms' delivery system could also increase customer satisfaction because the produce will stay fresh longer.

Crop One is also considering using electric delivery vehicles, Ratajczyk said. This would further reduce the company's carbon footprint in its last-mile logistics.

2. L'Occitane en Provence: Ditch packaging material, plastics

L'Occitane en Provence, commonly known as L'Occitane, is a manufacturer and retailer of natural cosmetics and well-being products headquartered in Manosque, Provence, France.

The brand wants to limit its environmental footprint at every product stage, including last-mile delivery, said Ashley Arbuckle, vice president of brand marketing and wholesale for L'Occitane en Provence, North America.

In North America, the company has eliminated most air bubble delivery packaging and replaced it with paper inserts. Today, about 97% of L'Occitane's shipments are plastic-free, except for a few of the company's fragrances that are considered hazardous material and require air bubble packaging material.

L'Occitane will be rolling out solid shampoo this fall in North America. This will further reduce its plastic delivery packaging because the solid shampoo is molded like a bar of soap instead of being poured into a bottle. L'Occitane already sells solid shampoo in other countries.

The company is also launching a project called Green Supply Chain, Arbuckle said. Green Supply Chain's goal is to further reduce L'Occitane's carbon emissions, which could include greener delivery vehicles.

3. Meejee: Turn to sustainable packaging, delivery

Vegan skincare company Meejee is focusing its sustainability goals on delivery packaging and transportation.

Meejee, which launched just over a year ago, wants to be a leader in sustainable, eco-friendly, vegan skincare, said Brooke Tassoul, chief operating officer at the Tampa, Fla.-based company.

The company's main product is a silicone facial cleansing massager also called Meejee, which is made from recycled plastic. Meejee is in the process of eliminating as much plastic wrap as possible from its internal packaging and aims to ship sustainable poly mailers in the future. Customers use an online product manual rather than receiving a paper version.

Meejee is also collaborating with its third-party logistics supplier, ShipMonk, for its sustainability goals. ShipMonk is housing Meejee's products near Meejee's shipping hot spots, which should reduce delivery transit times and carbon dioxide emissions.

4. Walmart: Invest in automation, localization

Walmart is currently striving to improve its last-mile sustainability by investing in automation and localization.

As part of this plan, Walmart teamed up with Cruise LLC, an electric self-driving car company, to launch an autonomous vehicle delivery pilot program in Scottsdale, Ariz. in which Cruise vehicles deliver Walmart products.

Walmart is also building what it calls "market fulfillment centers," said Camille Dunn, a Walmart spokesperson. Walmart is creating the centers inside existing stores to shorten the distances delivery drivers must travel. This should cut down on fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.

The first market fulfillment center was launched in Salem, N.H., in early 2020. Walmart is currently building other centers in Texas and Utah and plans to launch 100 market fulfillment centers over the next couple of years.

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