Our obsession with speed is killing the Earth

Sometimes I wonder how I can tie my shoelaces. I think how stupid I am. I used to think that Amazon was this amazing model for the future. That customer obsessed was a way all organizations should be.

There were these nagging doubts that I simply ignored. Okay, Amazon treats its workers terribly, works them like they were robots. I read about how Amazon used to keep ambulances outside its warehouses because it knew its workers would regularly faint from the overwork. I read about workers who were so pushed for time that they brought empty Coke bottles to work to pee in. But hey, it was all in the name of customer obsession, and putting the customer before everything else is the way to go, right? Getting that delivery out the door in double quick time over the backs of your workers, that’s progress.

Obsession. Think of that word for a moment. In a normal world an obsessed person is unwell. Okay, if they’re an artist or a mad scientist then we give them license to be obsessed. Imagine a society as a whole that becomes obsessed. Not good.

When I heard about Amazon reducing delivery times, I was in awe. This was progress. This was the future. This is what it was all about. Was it? Is it? One-hour delivery. Wow! Like landing on the moon. Like finding a vaccine for coronavirus. Like … Does it sometimes seem to you that so many of our tech titans’ innovations are trivial, if not destructive?

So, what good is one-hour delivery? How many things do we truly need delivered in an hour? Will the fact that we can get what we want almost instantly mean that we buy more crap we don’t need? Still, what harm can one-hour delivery do?

Beyond certain limits, speed becomes dangerous and creates exponentially more waste. An increase in average speed of 1 km an hour for a car increases the risk of a crash by 3%, with a 4–5% increase in the risk of a fatality. If you crash while driving at 80 km an hour, you are 20 times more likely to die than if you are travelling at 30 km an hour. The harder the acceleration, the greater the spike in fuel consumption. Consistent, moderate speeds work best for the environment.

With fast delivery:

  • The delivery truck will likely be less full, thus wasting energy.
  • The truck will likely be driving faster, thus wasting energy.
  • The driver will be more stressed.
  • Larger stock levels will have to be maintained, with more waste.
  • If it’s food delivery, then definitely more food waste.

Why? For what? Let’s say we have two options:

  1. 1-day delivery
  2. 3-day delivery

Now supposing we bring some Earth Experience design thinking to bear. Supposing we now provide the following options:

  1. 1-day delivery
  2. Green delivery (3 days)

How do we design for the optimization of the Earth’s resources? Because right now we design for speed and convenience, and we might as well be designing for waste.

This is surely a time to take stock. As a species, we are killing this planet and much of the life on it. We are creating waste at unprecedented levels, and digital is a driver and accelerator of our lazy, convenient and wasteful lifestyles.

We can use digital to create a so much better and more sustainable world. Let us rise to the challenge of Earth Experience Design.

One thought on “Our obsession with speed is killing the Earth

  1. Betsy Johnson

    I wish you hadn’t ignored all the other things about Amazon that you detail in your article. I’ve been boycotting them for years as I see them as wanting to control the world – or at least to destroy it. There are very few companies that I’ve encountered that offer even 3 day delivery. People should pay more if they need things that fast IMHO.

    Thanks for the article!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *