Companies can make centralized deliveries to the hub and then use more sustainable methods to get them to your door. It’s a testing ground for experiments to improve our new delivery-based economy.
As companies and governments strategize to make our exploding e-commerce economy more environmentally friendly, the “last mile” of a product’s journey—that is, the very last stage, from the transportation hub to the customer, currently appears the easiest to target. That’s especially true in cities, where higher population densities and shorter distances allow for the use of electric vehicles and micro-mobility options for getting packages into consumers’ hands.
Seattle is exploring that potential, launching a testing ground for a variety of logistics strategies to try and achieve zero emissions in the last-mile portion of delivery. Congregating various partners, it’s designed a “microhub” that will be home to cargo bikes, electric vehicles and pallets, and food trucks. It’s one of the first pilots in the country of its kind to drive a shift to a “neighborhood-scale delivery model,” as the nature of retail changes. With the city’s department of transportation also on board, it will align with Seattle’s climate goals of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050. [Photo: courtesy Urban Freight Lab/University of Washington]It’s best defined as a “research enterprise . . . for people to come in and test, revise, refine, and improve their delivery models,” says Anne Goodchild, founding director of the Supply Chain Transportation and Logistics Center at the University of Washington, whose Urban Freight Lab is coordinating the project. “We’re in this transition period where there’s some pretty imperfect things that we see happening,” she says, such as multiple carbon-emitting vans making multiple deliveries within the same neighborhoods. Still, buyers want to shop online, and there’s an opportunity for cities to use land differently as brick-and-mortar stores fade out. “We could have a delivery system that is compatible with the way we want our communities to look, and feel, and sound, and run.”