Environmental Impact of Overnight Shipping and Greener Delivery Options

Green shipping choices

Overnight delivery may sound like a good idea, but the environmental impact of express delivery is much higher than other shipping options.

It’s midnight when you realize that you forgot to mail the present for dear aunt Sally’s 75th birthday. If you get it to the post office by 9 a.m. you could send it overnight delivery and no one will be the wiser. But, is overnight shipping really the best idea for the environment?

It doesn’t take a degree in environmental science to realize that express shipping is probably a bad idea. After all, just about any time we pay extra for convenience there’s a harmful environmental impact—single-serve containers, anything in to-go packaging, you get the idea. Overnight shipping may be the easy option, but it’s better to suck it up and just tell aunt Sally the truth. Late-delivery won’t make your gift any less thoughtful.

If you need to explain the belated gifting, here are some reasons why overnight shipping is so much worse for the environment.

Faster Is Not Always Better

You choose overnight shipping because you need something delivered quickly. After all, the essence of next-day delivery is speed, but slowing down a bit would have positive impacts on the environment. Time and again it has been shown that slower speeds save fuel and reduce emissions, whether it’s a truck, car, plane or train.

Express Delivery Requires Extra Packaging

Overnight shipping often involves extra packaging materials. Items intended for next-day delivery need to be in a special box or envelope, and the package is usually padded extensively. Overnight packaging is generally not reusable, having seals that require destroying the packaging to open them. Bleached paper is commonly used to make boxes and envelopes intended for overnight shipping.

Extra Fast, Means Extra Emissions

Airplanes use a lot of fuel, and they produce a lot of emissions. Being so high up in the atmosphere, airplanes deliver their combustion emissions directly into the higher areas of the atmosphere. Currently, airplanes account for about 2% of total global CO2 emissions. Choosing delivery methods that don’t require flying can help make it even lower.

Greener Choices for Shipping and Delivery

In the late 1990s, the United Parcel Service (UPS) conferred with a group called Environmental Defense in order to make its overnight shipping greener. Some of UPS’s changes included a decrease in packaging material overall, greater use of reusable packaging and no bleached paper in any packaging. UPS also increased the use of recycled plastic and paper in its boxes and envelopes.

Making these changes had significant, positive environmental impact, reducing air pollution, waste water, and energy use. These changes also saved the company money, which savings get passed to the consumer. Thus, if you must ship overnight, UPS and companies like them are good choices.

Virtual Delivery—Overnight Without the Impact

Remember when we all thought that technology would usher in a paperless era? Somehow, it hasn’t happened, but there are still plenty of ways to use virtual delivery rather than actual shipping. Whenever possible, send electronic versions of documents.

Sending a gift? Send an online gift card. Many companies will let you purchase a gift certificate online that can be emailed to recipient.

If a gift card feel too impersonal, consider having the item shipped to a local store. You can order an item online and have it sent to the store in your recipient’s home town. This has less impact because your gift will usually be shipped ground delivery with other freight.

Go By Ground

Generally speaking, ground shipping is the greener choice over air shipping. Ground shipping is slower, but that saves fuel, and the packaging is less extensive. Eco-friendly, reusable packaging is more readily found for packages shipped via ground as well.


  1. Awesome! I would be learning much of these shipping systems.

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