Amazon Prime Air – A highly sustainable delivery system

Last class we focused on Distribution and how it is related to sustainability. The goal of most businesses is to reduce the ecological footprint of their distribution networks and simultaneously create huge cost savings. For most companies this means switching from Air to Sea, Road to Rail, sharing truck space with other companies, using more efficient vehicles, relocating warehouses and so on. However, Amazon is taking the idea of a sustainable distribution network to another level by revealing their R+D baby called Prime Air.

Amazon Prime Air is a system which utilizes drones to deliver packages from a warehouse to a person’s home or business. This “last mile home” delivery system eliminates the need for delivery trucks and significantly reduces carbon emissions in a highly efficient way. The main consumer benefit that Amazon says Prime Air will provide is product delivery in 30 minutes or less, which is absolutely unheard of. Want to see how it would work?

 

I’ve always been curious to learn about ordering online and it’s impact on sustainability. Sure ordering online is much more convenient, faster and cheaper than going to the store but what about it’s environmental costs? Ordering online means that maybe one or two items would have to be packed up, shipped, put onto a delivery truck and delivered to your house. If you extrapolate that to a city, thats hundreds or thousands of products that are being individually delivered to people’s doorsteps. Even if you use a route optimizer, I can imagine that this door to door delivery system is very inefficient and uses an insane amount of fuel. I’ve always thought that this process has a much higher impact on the environment than filling up a truck with like items only to have one or two stops at larger stores. But I also know that you must consider the impact of people driving to and from stores, the store’s carbon footprint, etc. So from my limited knowledge, I am not sure if I am able to say if one method is better than the other. However, I can say that Amazon’s Prime Air is definitely better than the status quo.

Using the drones will revolutionize delivery systems because there is no need for any trucks, cars, bikes or any other vehicle and it will take a fraction of the time to deliver. it will significantly reduce Amazon’s environmental footprint because they are eliminating carbon emissions on “the last mile” which is arguably the most inefficient and consumes the most fuel on a per product level, when compared to long distance shipping.

While the Prime Air still needs to undergo thorough testing, address security concerns and adhere to soon to be announced FAA regulations, I think that this is a ground breaking innovation and will change the game from a consumer convenience standpoint, as well as a corporate sustainability one.

Amazon expects Prime Air to be operational sometime in 2015.

What are your thoughts?

 

-AK

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2 thoughts on “Amazon Prime Air – A highly sustainable delivery system

  1. Noah Castelo says:

    I got excited about Prime Air at first, but then I read this kind of hilarious piece explaining how it’s actually not plausible at all… take a look: http://www.wired.com/business/2013/12/amazon-drone/

    Here’s another far-fetched sounding use of drones in sustainability: http://sustainablecitiescollective.com/david-thorpe/232036/even-pollution-fighting-drones-wont-save-chinas-cities

    Maybe these technologies will one day be good enough to actually be helpful, but it seems like they aren’t there yet. I think the Amazon case is especially interesting though, because it illustrates a fundamental tension between marketing and sustainability – if marketing in general wasn’t so successful at manufacturing desires for products, achieving sustainability would be much much easier. It’s good to think about how marketing hinders progress towards sustainability in addition to thinking about how it can help promote desires for sustainable products.

  2. Seve says:

    Hi Andrew,

    it almost looks a bit too good to be true. I’ve seen this type of drone technology for delivery before by other companies, e.g. Dominos for pizza delivery. My initial thoughts were immediately directed to challenges with the service. Risk of the drone falling down, damages to goods, point of exchange of goods (can it end up sitting on your driveway for an hour?), preciseness of location, etc.. It will be very interesting and exciting to see this thing in operation, and how efficient it will be.

    However, regardless of challenges, I think the important think here is Amazon’s investment and ambition to find innovative solutions to existing problems. Emissions from shipping are big, and this challenge needs to be identified. Its tempting as a critic to look at these new creative solutions with a sceptic eye. But I think its really great and extremely important that companies like Google, Amazon and other technology giants utilize their great pool of human capital to reinventing standards and bring the world forwards. Innovation never stops.

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