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.

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