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Opinion: How better location data could cut online retail carbon emissions


Paul Yewman, CEO of PostTag, discusses how inaccurate location data is leading to wasted miles, time and money for online retail and what can be done about it.
The transport sector is now the biggest contributor to the UK’s carbon footprint. It accounted for more than a third of emissions in 2018 and vans are the biggest culprit. While car traffic has stayed roughly the same in recent years, van miles have jumped to 52.2 billion annually – thanks largely to the surge in online shopping.

But what’s this customer convenience really costing? With next day – if not same day – delivery options becoming more commonplace and cheaper (at least for the customer) vans are now pumping out 13 billion kilograms of CO2 every single year.

As the largest sector in the UK, the delivery industry has a responsibility to reduce its carbon footprint. The best way for all businesses to help is by improving efficiency to cut wasted miles – but it’s the final stretch that’s causing pain for drivers around the world.

While the UK has one of the leading postal code systems, it was never designed for the sheer volume of deliveries that occur every hour. The issues that drivers face are exasperated in countries that don’t have a ‘traditional’ postal address, such as Dubai and Malaysia where the ability to geocode an address is not viable.

Our stats show that sat navs are letting drivers down time and time again because of poor location data. We looked at over two million addresses in the UK and found that almost half are off the mark by the length of a football pitch. Fine if you’re dropping the kids off for a play date, but not ok for drivers making dozens of deliveries a day.

Location inaccuracy is causing delivery drivers to be on the road for thousands of unnecessary miles. Not only is this adding to the emissions bill, but it’s costing them precious time. PostTag research shows drivers are spending two and a half hours each week driving around in circles, manually hunting for the right address. Multiple this by the hundreds of thousands of delivery drivers out there, and the numbers really start to add up.

Giving drivers the precise address data and location before they get behind the wheel will ensure they arrive at the right front door first time, every time. A PostTag analysis of the environmental impact of this on the UK’s delivery sector, shows pinpoint location accuracy could cut annual van miles by 2%. This would stop vans pushing out 262 million kilograms of CO2 into the atmosphere every year – the same as taking 56,000 cars off the road. It’s a no-brainer really.

Last month, the UK became the first major economy in the world to pass laws to end its contribution to global warming – committing to a net-zero target for greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This is great news, but we still have a long way to go. The UK is already on track to fall short of meeting its next carbon dioxide budget so drastic action must be taken now if the government hopes to make a change.

While talk heats up of using drones and driverless cars to make deliveries, it’s important to point out that without precise address data, autonomous deliveries will remain a pipe dream. And while it’s great to see that more delivery fleets are ‘going green’ to curb their environmental footprint, electric vehicles don’t go far enough. For example, if a global delivery firm was able to replace 10% of its 63,000 delivery vans around the world with vehicles that were 20% more environmentally friendly, that would only make the fleet 2% greener.

Now if all delivery drivers in the fleet were able to access accurate destination data – saving them thousands of wasted miles – it would have a greater and immediate impact, improving efficiency by 5%. Long term plans are all well and good, but we need immediate change.

Environmental responsibility should be at the top of everyone’s agenda and if accurate address data can speed up delivery times, improve business and keep customers happy while cutting carbon emissions – well, it’s a win-win situation for all.

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