Which courier is the ‘greenest’?

As we become more environmentally aware, businesses – such as ours – are starting to look inwards at some of the changes we could make to the things we do on a daily basis. One thing that most, if not all, businesses use are couriers. We rely on them to ship and deliver products to customers all over the world. And even if you aren’t a business, couriers still play a significant part in people’s lives. With the ever-increasing rise in online retail and consumption, we simply get more and more delivered to us!


After reading this, make sure to check out the Sheffield-based recycling tool we developed to help people sort out their rubbish and know exactly where to take it.


But how green are these couriers? Do they share our environmental awareness and need for change? We have put together a simple guide to help inform you just that bit more on your choice of courier.

We chose six of the main couriers in the UK and explored each of their environmental policies and some of the actions they have taken to reduce their environmental impact. These have been analysed through the following categories: transportation, the company’s facilities, carbon offsetting schemes, and their environmental certifications.

And even though there is some argument surrounding how useful carbon offsetting schemes are (UN Environment, 2019), we have chosen to include this category as these schemes are being used in conjunction with other efforts and not just as a sole solution.

So, we can see from the graphic that DHL and DPD are ranked as joint highest when it comes to who is the most environmentally conscious.

DHL reported that 80% of its road vehicles in Europe were compliant with Euro 5 or 6 standards, or were entirely emissions-free. They also use cycle couriers, and have brought in electric and natural-gas powered vehicles for short distances and use bio-fuels for long distances.

They do state that they plan to increase the number of planes in their fleet however, but they are part of the Aviation Initiative for Renewable Energy in Germany (aireg) that aims to improve the deployability of alternative aviation fuels.

Therefore, even though companies should be trying to decrease their air travel not adding to it, it seems there is some attempt to counteract some of the emissions given off through air travel.

When it comes to their facilities, DHL come out on top with emissions from their buildings falling by 38.6% against the prior year and their use of renewable electricity is at 77%.

Turning to DPD, they also do well in the transportation category. The majority of their road fleet are also Euro 5 complaint (75%) and for their last mile operations, they use electric vehicles and cycle couriers to pick up and deliver parcels.

There isn’t much detail on their air travel but simply state that ‘almost all’ their parcels are transported by truck rather than airfreight.

DPD also have an initiative that improves on their delivery – ‘Predict’. Predict provides a one-hour time slot in advance with the opportunity to reschedule, and by increasing their first delivery rate, it has resulted in 4% reduction in emissions per parcel.

They hadn’t included indirect building emissions in their carbon reduction goals before this year, but they do source 39% of their electricity from renewable energy which is a good step in the right direction.

In second place we have FedEx. Now, when it comes to their transportation, the level of detail given is quite minimal. They mention that they have ‘upgraded their vehicle fleet’ and that they use hybrid and electric vehicles, but nothing on the extent of this use.

They do provide some detail on their air travel though. They have established an initiative called ‘Fuel Sense’ – which aims to optimise how they plan and manage aircraft operations, ensuring the best possible trade-off between fuel efficiency and performance. And this seems to be working as they have reported a 22% reduction in air emissions since 2005.

They have also invested in bio-fuels and in more efficient containers.

Some of their facilities have earned them recognition from the U.S Green Building Council, and they use solar power generation systems in a number of their facilities.

Royal Mail comes in third place. They do pretty well on the transportation front with a modernized fleet of vehicles, a partner in a well-known trial of electric vehicles, the use of cycle couriers, and the use of air travel for priority services only.

When we asked them whether their fleet could go 100% emissions free in the near future, they responded stating – “We recognise our responsibility to reduce emissions associated with our fleet and to help improve air quality in the communities in which we operate… We continue to trial vehicles using low or zero direct emissions technology, to see if larger electric vehicles can meet the mail collection demands of our biggest sites.” So, no real definitive answer there.

Royal Mail are the only courier in this guide to be certified by an additional body – Carbon Trust Standard. And they have managed a reduction in emissions from their facilities (8.4%), but they have reported that an increase in the consumption of electricity and gas. Plus, they do not currently participate in carbon offsetting.

UPS is next in fourth place. In the transportation category for UPS, there isn’t a vast amount of detail on their road fleet. They do report the use of 7000 low-emissions vehicles, but there isn’t any expansion on what proportion of these are zero emissions.

However, they do use cycle couriers for some deliveries. They also report the use of fuel-efficient aircraft and retrofitted existing models in their fleet.

They also use inter-moda shifting, and this is where they choose the best transportation modes to meet delivery times – reducing energy intensity.

Apart from their global headquarters earning a certification from the U.S Green Building Council, there isn’t any other information on if/how they are reducing emissions in their facilities.

Finally, we come to our lowest ranking courier – Yodel. They also fair well on transportation and are the only courier in this comparison that do not currently use air freight for their services.

They also have a wide-reaching network of ‘Collect+’ points, meaning fewer trips needed to be made on pickups and deliveries.

Again though, when it comes to their facilities, they provide an example of one location that is doing things right, but no detail on all the other sites. And they also do not participate in carbon offsetting.

Overall, all six of the couriers we’ve looked at have made attempts at reducing their impact on the planet. However, some have gone further than others, with DPD and DHL leading the way on this.

But even they have some way to go. We need companies to take bigger steps in their environmental policies. For example, in relation to couriers – electrifying the whole of their road fleet and reducing air travel, as transportation is their biggest problem.

So, what’s the future like for delivery companies in a world that is becoming more and more environmental conscious? Well, Amazon are already trialing the use of drones and robots for their delivery services, which would do wonders for cutting down on emissions. Maybe a solution? I guess we’ll have to wait and see!

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