Academic Minute Podcast

Jose Holguin-Veras, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute – Reducing E-Commerce Emissions

Shopping from home can also be bad for the environment.

Jose Holguin-Veras, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Renssealaer Polytechnic Institute, explores ways to reduce vehicle emissions during shipping.

Dr. José Holguín-Veras is the William H. Hart Professor, and Director of the Center for Infrastructure, Transportation, and the Environment; and the Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (VREF) Center of Excellence on Sustainable Urban Freight Systems at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He received his B.Sc. in Civil Engineering, Magna Cum Laude, from the Universidad Autónoma de Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, in 1981; his M.Sc. from the Universidad Central de Venezuela in 1984; and his Ph.D. from The University of Texas at Austin in 1996. He has been a faculty at California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo, City College of New York (1997-2002), and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (2002-present). His work has received numerous awards, including the 2013 White House Champion of Change Award for his contributions to freight transportation and disaster response. His research emphasizes the integration, synthesis, and projection of the knowledge that exist in multiple disciplines to produce solutions to the complex and multifaceted problems—which have proven to be too complex to be solved by single-disciplinary approaches—that impact freight transportation and humanitarian logistics. His research taps into the knowledge of social sciences to build more realistic mathematical models of humanitarian logistics, and integrate cutting edge economic principles into freight transportation modeling, so that a complete picture could be developed on the broader impacts of transportation activity on the economy and the environment; and on the most effective ways to conduct post-disaster humanitarian logistics. His research blends field research and measurements, applied and basic research to ensure that theory relates to reality; and, ultimately, to a set of actionable policy recommendations that contribute to the betterment of the economy and society.

Package Delivery Emissions


Believe it or not, the number of ecommerce deliveries to households is more the double the number of to businesses. In New York City, more than 1.5 million packages are delivered each day to city residents. In Los Angeles, the number is 700,000, and in Chicago half a million.

These are staggering numbers. But, there’s more. The growth of online sales, combined with rapid delivery options, has increased traffic congestion in large cities, and emissions in the entire country because of the spike in truck travel.

Our research shows there are effective actions that we can take. For example, we designed and implemented an off-hours delivery program in New York City and found out by making deliveries overnight, a truck’s emissions were reduced by an estimated factor of 65 percent.

We’re now researching what alternatives may help reduce congestion and emissions generated by ecommerce. Recently, we conducted a survey of online shoppers and found that some are open to receiving packages in more sustainable ways including delivery to lockers, during night hours, or to workplaces; or simply selecting the slowest delivery option. Using this alternative enables freight carriers to increase efficiency, reduce congestion, emissions and air pollution.

As we continue our research, we hope political leaders use what we’ve found to design effective policies. Small adjustments, like these, will improve the environment, increase economic output, and enhance our quality of life.


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