Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Last Few Yards, Again

Custom Folding USB Flash DrivesI wrote a couple of months ago about the "last few yards" or "last mile" problem - the disproportionate amount of transportation energy used in getting a product on the final stage of its journey, from store to home.  I was thinking of food - and I learned more about food distribution at the recent MAA event,Teaching mathematics for a Sustainable Future, which I'll write about soon - but just today I read a great article on the MPE2013 blog about "the last few yards" in the context of e-shopping.  Here's how it begins:

As more and more purchasing takes place online, I’ve been wondering whether it’s more energy efficient to go out and buy something at a local store or to order it over the internet and have it delivered to my door. And which one has the smaller carbon footprint? Now it’s pretty simple to figure out my cost in time and money, and so like millions of other people I often decide that for me online is cheaper. But I see the cardboard boxes and the packing material filling up the recycle bins where we live, and I notice the delivery trucks every day making deliveries on our block, and I wonder about the differences in the total energy costs of the systems for getting goods from manufacturers to customers.

Well, I have found some studies of exactly these questions, and the answer is: it all depends. But what it depends on is something easy to analyze and to a great extent something that I can control. That key factor is the trip from home to store—how far it is and how I get there.
Read the full article here.

PS: for those who are interested in such things you can now follow this blog via Twitter.  I'm at @johnxroe.

Photo by Flickr user AmsterdamPrinting, licensed under Creative Commons

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