Sustainable Growth: How Carbon-Neutral Shipping is Changing the Industry

Fleets of cargo planes grow larger, drones soaring the skies replace bike carriers on the ground, and delivery trucks weave through city streets in hectic routes. Why? All for the sake of convenience and speed of delivery for your e-commerce goods.

Recent estimates indicate that e-commerce sales will rise to $5.4 trillion by 2022. At first glance, the carbon-intensive shipping and delivery associated with e-commerce, especially expedited shipping and last mile delivery methods, may seem to contrast our collective value of environmental sustainability. But that doesn’t have to be the case. 

In this post, we’ll explore how shipping companies are pursuing new strategies for carbon-neutral shipping and explore what that may mean for the future.

What Is Carbon-Neutral Shipping?

In recent years, terms like “carbon-neutral” and “carbon footprint” have become part of our common vocabulary. But what do they mean? What is carbon-neutral shipping, and why do you need it?

The Definition of Carbon-Neutral

“Carbon” is shorthand for the greenhouse gases associated with climate change; namely, carbon dioxide and methane. A company’s “carbon footprint” refers to the amount of greenhouse gases it puts into the atmosphere. Recent green initiatives have prompted many corporations to reduce their carbon footprint by mitigating their emissions.

Carbon-neutral shipping is an essential strategy for reducing a company’s carbon footprint. On one hand, it’s impossible to eliminate all carbon emissions from the shipping process. But companies can pursue carbon neutrality through various methods.

Why Consider Carbon-Neutral Shipping

Carbon-neutral policies protect the environment, but they also offer some immediate, practical benefits to companies who pursue an eco-friendly business strategy. First, many customers prefer to rely on a company that embraces sustainable business practices. That is especially true of millennials and young adults. By some estimates, 87% of customers prefer a company with sustainable business practices.

Additionally, the same sustainable practices that reduce your carbon footprint also work to eliminate waste. So while carbon neutrality may seem like a heavy commitment, it can ultimately help you cut costs while maintaining an eco-conscious customer base.

How to Achieve Carbon-Neutral Shipping

Currently, it’s simply not feasible to completely eliminate all greenhouse gases that your shipping method produces. But that doesn’t mean it’s hopeless. There are several steps that you can take toward carbon neutrality.

Step 1: Determine Your Emissions
First, you need to determine the impact your company is already having on the environment. The Carbon Fund provides a helpful Business Emissions Calculator that you can use to determine your company’s carbon footprint. You can also break down your carbon footprint by category, which may help you pinpoint the impact your shipping process has on your company as a whole.

Step 2: Re-evaluate Your Packaging
Shipping supplies are essential for protecting e-commerce products during transport. But some of these products do little more than make waste. Did you know that between 1950 and 2015, less than 10% of the world’s plastic was recycled? The rest still clogs our landfills.

Consider investing in recyclable and biodegradable materials, such as the following: 

  • Custom-made shipping boxes to eliminate wasted packaging
  • Biodegradable air pillows
  • Sealed-air packing peanuts instead of Styrofoam
  • Reusable refrigerant gel packs instead of dry ice

These materials may be an initial financial investment for a shipping company or 3PL, but over time may prove to be more cost-effective than the products you’re currently using.

Step 3: Redesign Shipping Routes
Many logistics companies can help you analyze your shipping routes and find ways to optimize your efficiency. You may even be able to consolidate your shipping needs with third-party LTL carriers.

Step 4: Purchase Carbon Offsets
A carbon offset is any financial contribution to environmental projects and funds. These “carbon credits” can be used to offset the impact of your shipping process. However, this practice is often criticized as merely a financial escape hatch for a company that doesn’t want to make other changes toward sustainability.

Companies that Advertise Carbon-Neutral Shipping

Many e-commerce companies and 3PLs already advertise carbon-neutral shipping and delivery, but several notable shipping companies are committed to reducing emissions and pursuing sustainable shipping models.


When you use UPS, you have the option of purchasing carbon offsets to mitigate the environmental impact of the emissions used during the transport. The carbon-neutral option used by UPS is verified by SGS, an inspection, and a verification company, offering one of the most reliable systems for carbon offsets.


FedEx is making a host of changes in the hopes of becoming fully carbon-neutral by 2040. Currently, the company offers carbon-neutral shipping envelopes, and their plans involve electric vehicles, energy-efficient aircraft, and other innovations to achieve sustainability.


ShipHero understands the fast-paced needs of the shipping industry, which is why we provide two-day ground shipping supported by advanced logistics tools powered by AI. Rather than rely on centralized hubs, ShipHero brings products directly to customers’ doorsteps in a shipping method known as distributed fulfillment, which is a proven strategy for minimizing emissions and reducing costs.

The Future of Eco-Friendly Logistics

Moving forward, we can expect several innovations in emerging technology to lead the way in the first half of the 21st century.

Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles have already become standard fixtures on America’s highways, and we can imagine that soon these cars will be utilized as an efficient means of shipping. That will drastically reduce, if not eliminate, the carbon released into the atmosphere from combustion engines.

Advanced AI for Logistics

Logistics software will soon govern every company’s delivery route, providing real-time optimization based on traffic patterns, weather conditions, and other considerations relevant to the delivery route.

Emphasis on Warehousing Facilities

While many innovations will focus on the trucks and routes themselves, there will be an increased emphasis on the carbon emissions and environmental impact of warehousing facilities. We might even expect federal regulations to stipulate the kinds of packaging and waste produced by shipping facilities, prompting managers and others to pursue sustainable practices at every level of the shipping process.

Wrap It Up: A Sustainable Now, a Better Tomorrow

These innovations may seem like significant investments, but these carbon-neutral strategies are essential for maintaining our environment for future generations. By embracing change today, we leave our children a brighter tomorrow. Cue the American flag… and scene.

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