There’s no question modern technology has made shopping in all its forms so much easier. At the click of a button the weekly shop can be delivered to your door, or an indulgent treat can hit the doormat the day after you spotted it browsing online.
In many ways this is great, particularly for those living in the more rural parts of Scotland. But there are some consequences to the rise of internet shopping. Recent data from the UK Department for Transport shows that UK traffic hit record levels last year, with a surge in the number of vans on the road a big contributor. More vans mean more traffic and more emissions, making climate targets harder to hit and adding to air pollution in our towns and cities. But there are better, greener ways of getting our parcels to our homes that can support new industries and create new jobs.
One action is to start supporting and encouraging delivery companies to switch their diesel vans and trucks for electric alternatives. With 57 per cent of Scotland’s electricity already generated from renewable sources, and sales of electric vehicles increasing, conversion to electric vehicles would not only bring down emissions and reduce air pollution, but the cost of running a fleet of vehicles would drop. And with many delivery vehicles returning regularly to depots where they could recharge, it’s an area where electric vehicles make increasing sense.
Another solution is ‘freight consolidation’ where lorries drop goods off on the edge of cities before parcels are transferred to smaller electric vehicles or bicycle couriers, again reducing congestion and the pollution from large delivery trucks that clog up our cities, as well as improving safety.
None of these ideas are untested. Many European countries are already ahead of the curve and reaping the benefits. For example, public and private companies have joined forces in Brussels to create a freight consolidation consortium. Working with couriers and other operators, they transfer goods from heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) and rail on the outskirts of the city, and make deliveries to the centre in a fleet of low emission vehicles.
The scheme also provides a pick-up service for businesses, collecting waste packaging, paper, cardboard, plastics and glass. This two-way system means the number of HGVs travelling into the city has been reduced, improving air quality, safety and customer service.
In the Netherlands, a coalition of growers, trade bodies and exporters came together to initiate several pilot projects where perishable goods such as flowers were transported by rail to several destinations in Europe instead of by road, using existing publicly-owned rail services. The success of these pilots led to the development of a commercial service for rail transport to Italy. This service now runs five times a week between the Dutch city of Venlo and Milan, and has not only cut emissions by up to 50 per cent, but has also seen a 20 per cent reduction in transport costs.
The Scottish Government’s Climate Action Plan, due in front of parliament this month, is a great opportunity to put these examples to work in Scotland. By working differently we can still enjoy the many benefits of online shopping, boosting businesses and the economy and helping create jobs, while also tackling air pollution, road safety and climate emissions. l Fabrice Leveque, Climate and Energy Officer, WWF Scotland