Carbon Footprint of Alternative Grocery Shopping and Transportation Options from Retail Distribution Centers to Customer

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the growth of e-commerce and automated warehouses, vehicles, and robots and has created new options for grocery supply chains. We report and compare the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for a 36-item grocery basket transported along 72 unique paths from a centralized warehouse to the customer, including impacts of micro-fulfillment centers, refrigeration, vehicle automation, and last-mile transportation. Our base case is in-store shopping with last-mile transportation using an internal combustion engine (ICE) SUV (6.0 kg CO2e). The results indicate that emissions reductions could be achieved by e-commerce with micro-fulfillment centers (16−54%), customer vehicle electrification (18–42%), or grocery delivery (22–65%) compared to the base case. In-store shopping with an ICE pick-up truck has the highest emissions of all paths investigated (6.9 kg CO2e) while delivery using a sidewalk automated robot has the least (1.0 kg CO2e). Shopping frequency is an important factor for households to consider, e.g. halving shopping frequency can reduce GHG emissions by 44%. Trip chaining also offers an opportunity to reduce emissions with approximately 50% savings compared to the base case. Opportunities for grocers and households to reduce grocery supply chain carbon footprints are identified and discussed.

Kemp, Nicholas J., Luyao Li, Gregory A. Keoleian, Hyung Chul Kim, Timothy J. Wallington, and Robert De Kleine. 2022. “Carbon Footprint of Alternative Grocery Shopping and Transportation Options from Retail Distribution Centers to Customer.” Environmental Science & Technology, August. https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.est.2c02050.

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