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Impact of e-commerce on CO2 emissions and air pollution


EU Commission, DG GROW




KE-Consult, Sphera

The assignment

Online commerce has grown strongly over the past ten years. Stationary trade has reacted to this trend and combined both distribution channels in an omnichannel approach. The boom in e-commerce has also had an impact on the transport system and thus on the environmental impact of the sector. The study aims to compare the environmental impacts of online commerce with those of stationary trade.

The EU Commission entrusted a consortium consisting of Prognos, Sphera, and KE-Consult, with the implementation of the study.

Our approach

In a first step, we examined the transport chain of online and stationary retail commerce in order to identify the individual stages in the two supply chains. In the process, the transport routes from the manufacturer to the customers were considered. In a second step, we developed a modelling tool to calculate the environmental impact (CO2 emissions and air pollution) of each transport stage. In the third step, this modelling tool was finally used to calculate the environmental impact using real-life case studies.

Core results

Two transport stages have a strong influence on CO2 emissions and air pollution: Global long-distance transport to the first parcel hub in the EU and transport from the parcel centre to customers (the “last mile”).

There are a number of factors that affect emissions during transport. Amongst other things the study determined:

  • the electrification of road freight transport reduces emissions, albeit not to zero
  • customers also influence emissions through their choice of the means of transport when collecting, purchasing, or returning goods. This offers great potential for savings, for example, if passenger car trips are eliminated
  • a conscious choice of slowing down the supply chain, for example, by eliminating same-day delivery or air freight, can also reduce transport emissions

In addition, five measures were identified that can reduce the environmental impact of the retail transport chain:

  • the use of zero-emission vehicles
  • more pickup points in residential areas
  • conscious consumer decisions
  • an optimised organisation of the deliveries to end customers
  • a shift from air, road, and sea transport to rail

Links and downloads

To the executive summary of the study (EU Commission, PDF in English)


Project team: Sven Altenburg, Hans-Paul Kienzler


Last update: 17.11.2022

Do you have questions?

Your contact at Prognos

Sven Altenburg

Head of Mobility & Transport, Principal

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