Africa Opinions

Sustainability of on-demand delivery start-ups beyond Covid-19

By William Benthall

The Covid-19 pandemic has transformed the way we shop and live our lives. With the ease of restrictions taking place now, there is maybe some thinking that our old habits may come back into play, but with the massive adoption of online purchases and home delivery, there is no denying that millions of consumers are creating and reinforcing new online buying behaviors and habits. Consumers are more motivated than ever to shop online and have deliveries made to their doorsteps.

As the online retail space continues to expand, consumers are choosing click and mortar retail over traditional brick and mortar stores. Online retail presents a unique opportunity to have a positive impact on the environment and mitigate the effects of climate change. An online consumer’s behavior is more efficient and sustainable than a traditional consumer. This shift in consumer behavior, coupled with the advent of Covid-19, has seen the growth of on-demand delivery start-ups such as Glovo, currently causing a major technology disruption in the Ugandan market.

Safety of our customers during the Covid-19 pandemic period is paramount. Consequently, we have instituted a number of changes including contactless deliveries, in which case human interaction is avoided as products are picked up from the stores or restaurants and delivered by Glovers wearing masks.  Deliveries are then dropped off at a consumer’s door in a seamless and cashless transaction.

The current consumer trends are unlikely to change even post-Covi-19 and in response to this, companies all over the world are investing heavily in developing their logistics and last-mile delivery operations, as the demand to serve customers fast, efficiently and effectively increases in importance.

Since the demand for both on-demand deliveries and environmental awareness from brands is here to stay, the onus is on businesses to tackle these corresponding revolutions in consumer behaviour. It is against this background that in June this year, Glovo purchased an initial 30,000 tonnes of carbon credits — certificates representing one tonne of carbon dioxide or the mass of another greenhouse gas (GHG) — from Pachama, the Silicon Valley-based carbon credit marketplace for verified forest carbon projects, offsetting its carbon footprint by 25% by the end of 2020.

Glovo’s long-term strategy is to offset 100% of carbon emissions across its entire value chain, from procurement to end-of-life products sold through the app, before the end of 2021. Alongside its offsetting plans, the company also aims to reduce its GHG emissions through initiatives including food waste management, order-bundling, providing partners with sustainable packaging and supplying couriers with backpacks made from recycled and fully recyclable materials.

This strategy is in tandem with the Paris Agreement, which contemplates a need for business and consumers, as well as government and citizens, to step up to the plate and contribute solutions. In the last few decades — in a trend that culminated in the Paris agreement — experts have been increasingly unanimous that government alone cannot solve the problem of climate change.

Locally, Glovo’s strategy is in keeping with the National Climate Change Action Plan (NCCAP) 2018-2022, which aims at making Kenya climate resilient and prosperous. Kenya’s priority climate actions are in the six mitigation sectors set out in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC); agriculture, energy, forestry, industry, transport and waste. The actions are expected to lower GHG emissions, and help Kenya meet its Nationally Determined Contribution goal of abating the emissions by 30% by 2030.

Ultimately, the onus will be on companies to figure out how to satisfy consumer delivery needs while reducing their carbon footprint and maintaining — or in some cases, even improving, their last-mile delivery operations. Unless we change the rules of the game, consumerism will continue to have a negative effect on the environment. We need to focus our efforts on models that have sustainability at their very core. One such model, the circular economy, which focuses on eliminating waste and the continued reuse of resources, can reduce the rise of negative environmental impacts by making the most of natural resources.

Secondly, with high customer expectation creating a demand for better courier services, on-demand start-ups need a reliable courier partner in ensuring that customers benefit from the best delivery service including same day delivery.