Mode Optimization: Stop shipping by air to save money and the planet!

Despite having only 1,300 or so aircraft and over 200K vehicles, FedEx and UPS generate nearly 70% of their greenhouse gas emissions from planes. 


1. Planes are much more polluting than trucks, trains, or boats. Planes generate about 5 to 6X per ton/mile more greenhouse gas emissions than trucks, and when you factor in the impact of contrails on global warming, they are about 10X more polluting.

2. They’re used to ship things much further distances, so even through total volume of shipments much lower, average distances are much further.

3. The express hub and spoke model. 

While the hub and spoke model enables you to connect from anywhere to anywhere with many fewer flights, the paucity of express hubs for FedEx and UPS means that the actual distance a shipment travels can be 2 to 10X greater than the straight-line distance between two points, e.g. Washington DC to Boston is about 400 miles but if ship via UPS Express or FedEx Express services distance will be 3 to 5x. For UPS will most likely be routed to Louisville and then Boston, about 1300 miles, or with FedEx Express will travel through Indianapolis about 1300 miles or Memphis, nearly 1900 miles.

In addition, take offs are by far the most energy intense/polluting portions of a flight, and since unless you ship directly from a hub, each package will be involved in two takeoffs, not just one, resulting in even more emissions

So what can you do?

  1. Avoid shipping items by air, and where possible ship items by train, which is by far the most energy efficient and least polluting form of transportation.

2. Move your inventory/distribution centers closer to your customers and suppliers to minimize the need for express shipping. Just moving from the west coast of the United States to someplace like Chicago or Atlanta can reduce your average transit times dramatically as we outline in our Shorten Your Shipping Distances section

3. If you have to do a lot of express shipping, relocate your inventory to Memphis, Louisville or another hub with non-stop flights to your destinations so the package can fly direct instead.