European Merchants and Logistics Providers Face Regulatory Pressure to Embrace Sustainability Initiatives

The ecommerce industry and last-mile delivery services are witnessing a pressing need for change in Europe, as the growing volume of deliveries poses significant challenges to urban centers across the continent. While cities have taken the lead in implementing regulations, national governments, like France, are also recognizing the importance of voluntary frameworks to drive sustainability efforts.

France has introduced two voluntary charters—one for merchants and one for logistics providers—that have garnered support from leading merchants and approximately 30 logistics businesses. The logistics charter focuses on real estate practices such as installing solar panels on new construction roofs, planting hedges around perimeters, and concentrating warehouse expansion in existing industrial areas.

The merchant charter encompasses several provisions aimed at improving sustainability in delivery and returns processes. Signatories commit to reducing packaging volume by 75%, consolidating multiple items from a single order into one delivery, informing consumers about the environmental impact of their delivery choices, discouraging “bracketing” (ordering multiple items in different sizes and returning the ones that don’t fit), and highlighting products with strong environmental records. While only 15 merchants have currently signed the charter, smaller merchants face challenges in implementing such changes due to limited technical capacity and understanding of delivery impacts.

This presents an opportunity for logistics providers to assist merchants in aligning with best practices. For instance, they can offer checkout integrations for out-of-home networks to promote greener delivery options and provide returns solutions that identify problematic orders and capture returns data at the point of initiation, rather than after goods arrive at the warehouse. Empowering merchants with better delivery options, control over returns, and comprehensive information about their customers’ experiences will yield positive outcomes.

Meanwhile, in Barcelona, the city council has adopted a more regulatory approach by setting ambitious goals for urban logistics to achieve by 2030. The objectives include cutting emissions associated with deliveries in half, directing 40% of ecommerce parcels to collection points, and increasing the number of “cyclologistics vehicles” (bikes) tenfold to 800 by 2030. To enforce these goals, the council plans to establish a collection point network, introduce changes to charging infrastructure regulations, and impose a 1.25% gross revenue tax on delivery operators with annual revenues exceeding €1 million, excluding deliveries to collection points.

This regulatory approach forces last-mile carriers and postal operators to reconsider their interactions with consumers and factor in the negative externalities of traditional “to-door” ecommerce deliveries. Carriers will have a direct financial incentive to encourage more shoppers to collect their purchases from collection points instead of opting for home delivery. Rather than waiting for government intervention, proactive collaboration between carriers and regulators is vital. Successful examples from Belgium demonstrate the effectiveness of initiatives like “Ecozones” introduced by the national postal operator, bpost, which facilitate emission-free and consolidated deliveries in municipalities.

To collaborate effectively with regulators or stay ahead of evolving regulations, carriers must possess the technological capabilities to influence consumer behavior and demonstrate the value of doing so to their merchant partners. Tools such as checkout integrations for out-of-home networks, digital returns propositions to reduce wasteful returns, and efficient management of pick-up and drop-off (PUDO) networks will play crucial roles in helping carriers navigate the increasingly active regulatory landscape.

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