Photo via MikeBlogs via Flickr Creative Commons
I happen to order stuff online quite a bit. I know -- it's not the greenest thing to do. But when you don't own a car and you need a desk for your office, it's just so much easier to pick it out online and it magically appears on your doorstep a few days later (I've done the greener version: go to the thrift store, pick out a desk, go rent a truck from Zipcar, navigate crazy city streets to the thrift store and then from the thrift store to my apartment, lug the heavy thing up the stairwell, and go return the truck to the Zipcar lot.) Did it once, and likely won't do it again -- I'd rather have the delivery guy make it magically appear on my doorstep. Even if that means I need to pay extra or wait longer to ensure that it was transported in the greenest way possible. And, according to a new patent from Amazon, selecting the greenest method of delivery will be a whole lot easier in the future. Transportation represents about 71% of our oil consumption, which includes shipping goods all over kingdom come. It goes without saying that wising up about how we move items around the country will significantly help decrease our environmental impact. TechFlash reports that Amazon has received a patent for allowing users to select the greenest method of shipping, minimizing the carbon footprint of their purchase.
Image via TechFlash via Flickr Creative Commons
The patent includes the easy fall-back of buying carbon offsets for purchases, but more importantly, it would allow buyers to customize how their item is shipped and see how each option decreases the total carbon footprint of receiving their order. A buyer would be able to select, for example, a smaller shipping company that uses hybrid or biodiesel vehicles, or select packaging that minimizes materials or uses environmentally friendly materials. While the options would likely add a chunk of change to the total cost of the purchase, Amazon thinks that buyers would like to have such options.
Amazon has already tried to lighten its environmental footprint by offering "frustration free" packaging, which minimizes the amount of packaging used. It also allows users buying multiple items to ship their purchases in as few boxes as possible, even if that means adding a little more time onto the expected delivery. However, the idea of being able to really customize how your package is sent is incredibly appealing -- at least, it is to someone who recognizes that transportation has an environmental impact and wants to do what they can to minimize it.
Customized Shipping Options Provides Consumer Insight
The patent could also be useful in pinpointing to a greater degree what consumers prioritize -- will we pay more attention to the types of vehicles used for shipping goods, and therefore help create a larger market for alternative fuel vehicles? Or will we focus more on how items are packaged? After all, we do bellyache a lot about these packaging fails:
Photo via Tom Bullock
It can also help educate consumers on the many factors that influence to carbon footprint of transporting an item. Seeing how much goes into sending a product from here to there -- from types of vehicles to size of packages, from timing of delivery to number of stops -- might go as far as decreasing the number of online orders a consumer makes. Who knows.
Great Green Ideas Should Be Shared...Not Patented
The patent sounds incredibly interesting, however, there is one odd thing about this patent -- the fact that it's a patent. The idea of a company being able to patent customized shipping options to consumers is unfortunate. This sort of green thinking should be something shared and used across the board for the greater good. Amazon has received the patent, but we have yet to see if they'll use it. Meanwhile, companies wanting to imitate their ideas for providing eco-friendly solutions for online ordering is stifled.
We'll be interested to see if, when, and how Amazon -- and hopefully others -- use the concept of highly customized shipping options to green operations. It has the potential to be game changing for the shipping industry.
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More on Environmental Footprint of Shipping
How Can We Reduce Oil Consumption & Still Ship Goods and Ourselves Around the Globe?
How Can Technology Reduce Global Shipping's Fuel Consumption?
Global Shipping Industry Could Use Existing Efficiency Measures to Cut Emissions & Increase Profits
UK Carbon Emissions From Shipping Six Times Higher Than Reported: New Study